Playing to Win
How hbomberguy used far-right tactics to promote the left
Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
by Gavin Steven
Recently YouTuber and streamer, hbomberguy, raised £265,000 for charity with a marathon Donkey Kong 64 live stream. While certainly impressive, this in itself is not particularly newsworthy.
In 2015, Twitch streamers together raised around $17.4 million for charity, and twice a year Games Done Quick posts seven-digit sums from their own gaming marathon. Hbomberguy’s achievement is a relative drop in the pond to other Twitch-based charitable enterprises. Yet, I’m writing about hbomberguy’s 57-hours live stream because it was born out of spite for mid-tier British TV comedy writer and self-appointed super-feminist, Graham Linehan.
Last year, Linehan successfully petitioned the National Lottery to review their £500,000 grant to Mermaids UK, a charity dedicated to assisting transgender youth. Those unfortunate enough to spend a lot of time on twitter or reading the Times will know that this controversy had become a focal point of the transgender debate in the UK. On Linehan’s side were media figures including Hadley Freeman, writer of such thinly veiled Guardian columns as “Don’t you just love it when a man explains to you what it means to be a woman?” and Robert Webb, Peep Show actor and author of the ironically titled How Not to Be a Boy. Losing £500,000 was a huge blow to Mermaids UK and Hbomberguy’s stream aimed to make that lost money back. Throughout the stream he was joined by a laundry list of left-wing luminaries, including activist Chelsea Manning and U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
But, to me, his stream wasn’t simply a success in raising money for a worthy cause, it was the left’s first step into taking internet culture seriously.
In today’s world, it is indisputable that the highly social media-literate have a disproportionate effect on culture and politics. Almost all of us are required to use the internet in our day-to-day lives, whether it be to check email, read the news or stalk an ex-lover. Yet few people understand the true influence of social media. Ads can be targeted down to groups of only hundreds of people, and can be pervasive throughout an entire internet browsing experience. Unfortunately, some of those on the right have worked this out long ago. When Donald Trump was elected as president, image board 4Chan believed itself to be the major contributing factor to his highly unlikely rise. While indeed a factor, since then, it has come to light that Russia had poured money into highly targeted internet advertising, funding a “meme machine” to target the social media accounts of swing voters in swing states.
Much of the highly social media-literate are “hardcore” gamers. The stereotypes are true, hardcore gamers spend a lot of time in front of their computers. That means, perhaps more than any other hobby, there is huge demand for content creators: YouTubers, streamers, meme-makers. However, this group of content creators has been pushed further and further to the right, be it because of foreign involvement, or simply gaming’s latent “incel” mentality.
Simply log on to YouTube and start watching some gaming videos. Quickly, your recommended videos will be filled with hateful content.
And that’s not to mention PewDiePie, the incredibly popular YouTuber who has been known to drop racial slurs on stream and link to videos from confirmed Nazis. Donald Trump himself has tweeted memes likely originating from r/The_Donald, a pro-Trump Reddit board with close ties to gaming culture.
This brings us to hbomberguy. At a glance, his videos appear to be the same as every other popular gaming YouTuber. All-caps titles, thumbnails with distorted facial reactions and outrage-baiting text cast in huge, eye-catching fonts. Yet his videos have one major difference: many are takedowns of alt-right talking points: soy boys, flat earth, 2017’s Bill Nye debacle. Hbomberguy’s videos make the same plays for virality as every other gaming video, and can attract that same gamer audience. However, unfortunately hbomberguy is one of the few YouTubers with his views, or at least who are willing to share them. His viewership numbers pale when compared to giants like PewDiePie, Jacksepticeye, or Ninja. But, as hbomberguy’s Donkey Kong stream has proven, with the help of other leftists with a platform bigger than his, him and other content creators can thrive. Left-wing politicians need to follow Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’ lead and take internet culture seriously, or risk being left behind by the right.