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No Child’s Play: The Identitarian Movement’s ‘Patriotic’ Video Game

No Child’s Play: The Identitarian Movement’s ‘Patriotic’ Video Game
17th September 2020 Linda Schlegel
In Insights

On 15 September, the German-speaking branch of the Identitarian Movement (Identitäre Bewegung; IB) released its first video game: A classic Jump ‘n Run game in a 1980s retro style with catchy audio effects and music, accompanied by a comic book detailing the story’s prequel. It is the latest effort to appeal to an increasingly young audience and pursue the IB’s long-term strategic objectives. The right-wing IB, which originated from the French Bloc Identitaire, is estimated to have a mere 600 active members, but its online presence and its ability to reach into the mainstream with ‘cool’ events and youth-counterculture appeal affords the group a potentially dangerous role in shifting public (youth) discourses towards the right. The ‘great replacement’ narrative championed by IB and other affiliated groups is aimed at framing the current situation in Germany and Austria as an existential crisis and Muslim immigration as part of an evil plan by a corrupt elite; a perception that may encourage violence, but, at the very least, increases the forces of polarisation already evident in German-speaking Europe.

One of the declared long-term goals of IB is to shift public discourse slowly towards the right and make ideas such as ‘remigration’ and ‘ethnopluralism’ acceptable in society at large. One of the strategies pursued by IB to facilitate such durable change is to appeal to young audiences with ‘cool’ digital content, offering them the chance to rebel against hegemonic discourse and practices in an (allegedly) non-violent yet edgy counter-culture. The latest effort to increase its public appeal with young audiences is the release of the video game Heimat Defender: Rebellion, which has been downloaded over 8000 times in the first 24 hours after release according to the organisation Ein Prozent (One Percent), which financed the game.

The story of the game is set in the year 2084 and the player has to defend Europe against the “globo-home regime” currently in power. The player can choose to play four different ‘heroes’, including IB figurehead Martin Sellner and YouTuber Outdoor Illner, to navigate through the “Antifa-zones” in “a Europe gone crazy” and liberate their homeland. The story follows the classical hero-protector narrative, which places a small group of heroes in opposition to a seemingly superior, large enemy force seeking to oppress and dominate innocent people. The virtuous and morally-superior heroes then bravely defeat the evil enemy.

Beyond the right-wing arch enemy Antifa, the enemies are apparently a diverse group of organisations and entities united under “globo-homo Inc.”. The year 2084 is probably a not very subtle allusion to Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984, suggesting an all-controlling and oppressive political “caste”. The IB has consistently complained about the German-speaking political elite’s corruption, left-leaning worldview and ‘oppressive’ actions and, consequently, includes a Merkel look-alike as an enemy. In addition, public news outlets are often portrayed by the far-right as shadow organisations set up by the government to control the flow and content of information the public can access, allegedly adhering to Orwellian Newspeak-strategies to control the discourse and prevent rebellion and thought-crime by eradicating independent thinking. In the game, the German comedians Jan Böhmermann and Oliver Welke, who both have their own show at public news outlet ZDF, are targets players can kill.

The reference to the “globo-homo regime” expands the narrative to the meta-level. Globo-homo is the abbreviation of global homogenisation, describing the perception that ethnic differences and cultural traditions are actively being eradicated and replaced with a cosmopolitan culture. As the IB, by its own account, seeks not only to protect German and Austrian traditions and cultural heritage but to encourage young people to be proud of their culture, the alleged homogenisation of culture is an imminent threat to be fought. In essence, the video game presents a playable version of the IB’s most important narrative: The elite and its supporters are destroying our culture and we need to defend ourselves.

According to Ein Prozent’s YouTube channel, the aim of the video game is to set a counterpoint against the left-leaning gaming culture supposedly financed by the ‘establishment’ and the government to “brainwash our children”. Specifically, the game is supposed to expand IB’s audience to teenagers and young adults not currently familiar with the group’s ideology. Youngsters are expected to be attracted to the game, because it is free of charge, full of references to memes, and affords the opportunity for low threshold participation in a counter-cultural youth movement. Ideology is transmitted almost incidentally through the game’s story, which means psychological reactance is likely to be low as players do not perceive the game to be aimed at persuasion but entertainment.

Nevertheless, the game is also entertaining for those who are already part of the far-right subcultural milieus. For instance, the graffiti and signs appearing in the background during the player’s journey through the dystopian world contain ample subcultural references including memes, the defamation of George Floyd, “Epstein didn’t kill himself”, “Open Borders: Global Homo Inc. needs reinforcements” and hydra as a representation of the “global homo regime”. Users can also collect items of subcultural importance during gameplay such as Kaplaken, a series of books published by far-right publisher Antaios and learn ‘fun facts’ about far-right figureheads such as Götz Kubitschek.

For the IB’s supporters and followers, the game is simply an extension of existing ideology and a ‘fun’ way to engage with the group they support. However, because the game is free, appealing and not immediately identifiable as championing a far-right ideological narrative, it could present an easy, low threshold first step towards engaging with the IB and its affiliated organisations. The video game is a testament to the increased technical sophistication of fringe groups and points to the need to engage more closely with the gamification of propaganda.