Gaming’s Three Way Fight: Why Antifascists Should Organize in and Around Video Games

Three Way Fight


A guest post by three antifascist gamers who are part of an emerging Abolitionist Gaming Network

[Text updated February 27, 2023.]

We’re all people who love to play video games. We’re also the kind of people who fascists want to run out of video games because we’re not straight white men. Recently, some cops and their academic allies have claimed they are going to save us from the fascists in video games; for example, the Department of Homeland Security awarded almost $700,000 in grant money to researchers who are studying how to confront “extremism” in gaming, with a focus on stopping white nationalist recruitment in digital games and the online communities associated with them. We are abolitionists, people who want to abolish police, prisons, and related forms of oppression like digital surveillance, given their role in confining and controlling Black and Indigenous people, working class people, queer people, and to some degree the rest of society. Given that, we don’t think that the cops at the Department of Homeland Security will save anyone from fascists—they’re just gonna make the situation worse.

Recently in Atlanta, the police and politicians have used this “confronting extremism” framework to raid and arrest abolitionist activists who are trying to defend the Atlanta forest and stop the development of a militarized police training facility. Several protestors are facing domestic terrorism charges and one of them, Tortuguita, was murdered by the cops. Antifascists should not support a “confronting extremism” political framework, in games or elsewhere, because it just adds more funding and legitimacy to this kind of repression.

We need to imagine better ways to confront fascists in video games, which are a crucial space of social, cultural, and economic struggle. However, these spaces are mostly overlooked and often dismissed by abolitionists, antifascists, and other radical activists. We hope to change that.

“Abolitionists should organize to oppose both fascist recruitment in games and capitalist policing of games. In doing so, we can also better leverage the radical histories and possibilities of video games as an arena of abolitionist organizing.”

We see the situation as a three way fight: a conflict between 1) the capitalist carceral state, 2) insurgent fascists challenging that state, and 3) abolitionists and other revolutionaries who need to challenge both the state and the fascists (as argued further here). The authors of the Three Way Fight blog point out, for example, that capitalist antifascism isn’t necessarily liberatory and “repression isn’t necessarily fascist—anti-fascism itself can be a tool of ruling-class repression (as was the case during World War II, when anti-fascism was used to justify strike-breaking and the mass imprisonment of Japanese Americans, among other measures).“ We think that abolitionists should organize to oppose both fascist recruitment in games and capitalist policing of games. In doing so, we can also better leverage the radical histories and possibilities of video games as an arena of abolitionist organizing.

Why Focus on Video Games?

Fascists and cops understand something that the majority of abolitionists and antifascists have not figured out yet: games are an important terrain of political conflict and organizing. As the grant announcement on the Department of Homeland security website puts it,

“Over the past decade, video games have increasingly become focal points of social activity and identity creation for adolescents and young adults. Relationships made and fostered within game ecosystems routinely cross over into the real world and are impactful parts of local communities…Correspondingly, extremists have used video games and targeted video game communities for activities ranging from propaganda creation to terrorist mobilization and training.”

They are not wrong about the political importance of video games. They are just wrong in defining the problem as “extremism” and “terrorism” rather than as fascist mobilization, and of course their solution is just more surveillance and policing. That solution just adds to the problems, since, as we know, surveillance and policing always end up disproportionately targeting marginalized communities instead of fascists.

The left is the only part of the three way fight that’s (mostly) not taking games seriously; fascists and the state have both been using games to organize, surveil, etc. as they fight each other and as they fight us. Antifascists should take gaming seriously as a space for learning, organizing, building friendships, imagining liberated futures, practicing skills needed in these futures, and mobilizing both online and in the real world. If we don’t do it, the fascists and cops will use games against us.

“Antifascists should take gaming seriously as a space for learning, organizing, building friendships, imagining liberated futures, practicing skills needed in these futures, and mobilizing both online and in the real world.”

The left is currently preoccupied debating about Twitter, about whether or not it should be surveilled and controlled, and how to stop it from being a haven for white supremacist mob organization. Meanwhile, young people spend far more time on gaming platforms than they do on Twitter. If the left is taking Twitter this seriously, they should be taking games and their related social media platforms even more seriously. Digital gaming has expanded rapidly during the pandemic, and it’s been a long time since it was a fringe subcultural phenomenon. At this point, calling oneself a gamer is like calling oneself a music listener or movie watcher. In their report on the rise of extremism in gaming, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) asserts that “Gaming plays a huge role in American life: according to the Entertainment Software Association, 75% of American households include at least one gamer, and the video game industry generates more money annually than the film and music industries combined.” Among teens, a staggering 97 percent of boys and 83 percent of girls in the US play video games.

Given this rapid expansion of gaming, it’s likely that many of the young people who participated in the 2020 George Floyd uprising against police violence probably play games and use them to think, imagine, learn, and socialize. Shouldn’t antifascists be trying to connect with them in these scenes and spaces?

Fascists are Organizing in Games

On the other two sides, mass shooters with fascist white supremacist ideologies have developed their ideologies and tactics in gaming-related platforms like Discord and Twitch. This includes the white supremacist who opened fire at a Buffalo supermarket in May 2022, killing ten. The U.S. military is also increasingly focusing recruiting efforts on video game-playing teenagers, uses video games for training and morale-building, and developed a series of video games over the last two decades “intended to inform, educate, and recruit prospective soldiers.”

Playing games and politics are more closely linked than they first appear, especially when people are using games to practice and train for real world activities. Given the relative lack of political moderation, fascists who used to organize on broader social media platforms are turning to games as a space to regroup after many of them got kicked off platforms like Facebook. Steam, for example, is the main platform used for buying PC games while also serving as a platform for gamer communities and game content creation with around 120 million monthly active players. The parent company, Valve, only employs around 360 people. It has very little moderation and so has ended up full of fascist-leaning or outright fascist individuals and groups, including those celebrating school shooters and neo-Nazis, among other racist, homophobic, and antisemitic content. Even child-oriented games like Minecraft or Roblox have become playgrounds for fascists. One survey found that among those who play online multiplayer games, 23% were exposed to extremist white supremacist ideology while playing. It is widely known that players with marginalized identities encounter consistent hate and harassment within games and many gamer communities.

Fascists go beyond sowing terror in online games. They also have lots of tactics for organizing within video games and their associated communities. Recruitment is sometimes done through creating new games or game content depicting fascist violence. These games might be stand-alone, modified versions of existing games (mods), or experiences within game-creation platforms like Roblox or Minecraft. Fascists also use mainstream games. For example, they join a chat, are deliberately provocative, see who responds positively, then seek to recruit them:

“You’ll often get a cell of extremists who will go into a gaming chat room or a party chat in Fortnite or a group in Call of Duty, for instance, and they’ll use racial slurs or some other type of extremist content.… They’ll monitor the people in those group chats and see who is responding positively with laughter, maybe asking questions about the certain use of these specific extremist terms. And then the people who respond well to that will be invited into a deeper group chat.”

The discussions then move onto other platforms, often gamer-adjacent Discord, in which young people are offered membership in a hierarchy—whites against all others—and quickly oriented towards blood-soaked ideology and action. Even when members are not recruited through games, gaming serves as a powerful common ground and reference point and gamified online harassment “raids” (semi-organized targeted harassment), a popular tactic of terror.

Grassroots vs. Capitalist Antifascism

This fascist organizing is being opposed in various ways. Historically, antifascism has been found in an array of grassroots movements associated with broader social dynamics. These have included Black liberation groups like the Black Panther Party and Black Liberation Army, anti-colonial movements, insurgent and grassroots movements against U.S.-supported dictators, and class struggle organizations like the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), along with anarchist, queer liberation, communist, and radical feminist movements throughout the world. Contrary to what Donald Trump and the far right say, antifascism (including antifa) is not an organization; it is an activity that people from many different backgrounds and politics (organized and unorganized) participate in. During the Trump years, antifa was a grassroots movement intertwined with rebellions against the system of racialized capitalism; for example, it was an expression of the George Floyd Rebellion against policing, when people in the streets defended themselves against fascists who attacked them.

While Trump called for violent repression of antifa, the Democratic Party and the liberal wing of the capitalist ruling class have been trying to coopt antifascist organizing, even as their cops, courts, and prisons still harm people when they actually fight fascists. These ruling-class forces have been trying to refashion themselves as people “defending democracy” from “far-right extremism,” asking people to imagine them as a new version of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Democratic Party that fought the Nazis in World War II. We see this with Biden’s speech in the fall of 2021, which framed Trump’s Make America Great Again movement as a fascist threat to democracy. We also see it in some of the rhetoric around the congressional and court investigations into the January 6th riots at the Capitol. In fall 2021, someone influenced by far-right ideologies attacked Democratic Party politician Nancy Pelosi’s husband, and in the wake of the attack, the liberal wing of the capitalist class has become more and more aggressive about stopping “domestic extremism.”

Many antifascists are trying to resist this cooptation by capitalist politicians. For example, the Three Way Fight blog has pointed out how this re-emerging capitalist antifascism can become its own form of authoritarianism.

Content moderation and surveillance measures on social media have become major points of political contestation within this emerging conflict between the fascists and the liberal capitalists. We see this of course with the debates over Twitter and calls for the federal government to step in to prevent far-right groups from using the platform to organize now that Elon Musk has allowed them back onto the platform.

Grassroots vs. Capitalist Antifascism in Video Games

This conflict over social media is now beginning to spill over into conflicts over video games. Several prominent researchers have received grants from the Department of Homeland Security to “counter extremism” among young people in video games. The goal seems to be to push the video game industry to implement some kind of content moderation system similar to what Meta has and what Twitter has but seems to be losing under Elon Musk. The far-right media outlet Breitbart wrote a piece calling this left-wing censorship, defending the legacy of Gamergate (a coordinated far-right campaign against women in gaming, which gave the alt-right its blueprint for coordinated online harassment). Game industry leaders are also discussing how to improve content moderation systems based on player feedback and systems for reporting “toxic” behavior, and Maggie Hassan, a member of the Senate’s Homeland Security committee, recently demanded that Valve address the neo-Nazi content in its platforms.

Internationally, UNESCO views violent extremism as an issue in need of resolution. Most important to our argument is UNESCO’s focus on the Internet and social media as solutions, given the ways we view gaming and game-related spaces as powerful social media platforms. While many people look to formalized organizations for guidance, specifically to combat “extremism” in social media (and in this case, video games and game-related spaces), we find their guidance lacking. UNESCO’s very own resources seem to point to 404 error pages, which is quite reflective of the ways games are discussed as solutions for fascism–the actual solutions are non-existent. UNESCO engages with video games as powerful tools, but its engagement is towards “peace and sustainability” or to highlight the learning possible. While these arguments about games are important, so too is addressing the violence that can result from fascism present in games. Thus, video games should not just be about peace, given that this peace is already disrupted by fascism. They can and should be about disruptive combat, a direct tussle with fascism. Furthermore, we can learn alternative ways of combating fascism, particularly from abolitionist gamers, educators, and other antifascist efforts seen in pop culture history.

Problems with Capitalist Antifascism

Researchers who want to be antiracists “doing the work” are suddenly rebranding themselves as “extremism” researchers. Do they realize the implications of what they’re getting into?

While it is good to see people taking the issue of fascist mobilization in gaming seriously, we are wary that these interventions could accelerate the surveillance and repression involved with capitalist antifascism. While many of the researchers and game industry leaders leading these efforts are experts in gaming, they are not experienced antifascists with an understanding of the three way fight dynamics outlined above, and they are intervening primarily on behalf of their funders, who want to maintain ruling-class interests: the funders’ goal is to secure the profitability of gaming platforms while stabilizing the US racial capitalist state. The researchers are inserting themselves into a potentially armed conflict between the far right and the state without the necessary training or preparation. As a result, they are likely to be manipulated by government and corporate interests who want to make a name for themselves through the grift, corruption, and public posturing associated with decades of War on Terror politics. Such careerist maneuvering may play a role in the repression of the Atlanta forest defenders, which has now escalated into an outright assassination of an environmental/abolitionist protestor. The consequences are matters of life and death.

“While it is good to see people taking the issue of fascist mobilization in gaming seriously, we are wary that these interventions could accelerate the surveillance and repression involved with capitalist antifascism.”

The Role of AI in Surveillance and Content Moderation

There’s a debate going on about whether such moderation and surveillance should be done by humans or by artificial intelligence (AI), not just in video games but across the tech industry. This is expressed in a Federal Trade Commission report to Congress: “Combatting Online Harms Through Innovation”:

“Facebook reportedly uses AI, combined with manual review, to attempt to understand text that might be advocating for terrorism, find and remove terrorist “clusters,” and detect new accounts from repeat offenders. YouTube and TikTok report using machine learning or other automated means to flag extremist videos, and Twitter indicates that it uses machine learning and human review to detect and suspend accounts responsible for TVEC [Terrorism and violent extremism]. Moonshot (a tech company) and Google’s Jigsaw use the “Redirect Method,” which uses AI to identify at-risk audiences and provide them with positive, de-radicalizing content, including pursuant to Google searches for extremist content.”

The FTC report points out that academics and government entities have raised concerns about potential invasions of privacy, lack of accuracy, and biased datasets involved in these tools.

Ruha Benjamin, a sociologist at Princeton, has warned that people are essentially creating new forms of racist AI surveillance and algorithmic policing in the name of using AI to counter racism online. She argues it’s part of a transition toward decentralized incarceration, or policing through digital platforms and apps. The Stop LAPD Spying Coalition is similarly warning that the whole framework of “countering extremism” is being used against Black, Indigenous, and environmental activists, not just the far right. They’ve linked that to their organizing against the LAPD’s AI-based “predictive policing” model, which uses big data and machine learning to allocate where to send officers based on predicted crime patterns. They have shown how the algorithms are biased and racist.

The FTC report reviews AI research showing that increases in racist speech in online forums in certain cities predicts racist violence in those cities. Some researchers and government officials consider this kind of research a possible use case for AI, allowing people to predict possible waves of real-world violence associated with online hate speech. However, the report ends up doing exactly what Stop LAPD Spying Coalition warns against: it treats anti-police protestors and abolitionists as creators of hate speech and violence, lumping them in with fascists and white supremacist groups who were threatening to kill protestors and sometimes carried out those threats through car attacks and gun violence:

“Internal Facebook documents show that analysts worried that hateful content on the platform might be inciting real-world violence in connection with Minneapolis protests occurring after the police killing of George Floyd. Although it is not clear what precise tools they used, these analysts discovered that ‘the largest and most combative demonstrations’ took place in two zip codes where users reported spikes in offensive posts, whereas harmful content was only ‘sporadic’ in areas where protests had not yet emerged.”

That quote cites an article by Bloomberg which says Facebook had a “heat map” of speech it flagged as offensive, and staffers watched as the map turned red in Minneapolis and then eventually turned red across the country as the protests spread. Yet at the same time, Facebook refused to prevent Trump from openly calling for the murder of protestors, when he posted “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.” The attempt to equate the violence of protestors with the violence of the state and fascists who oppose them just plays into the violent repression of abolitionist organizing that Trump and others attempted.

While digital gaming platforms are moderated by humans and algorithms, it seems they are not as strictly moderated as other social media platforms like Facebook. This might be because they are not yet widely seen as political spheres and forms of social media, even though they are. Most moderation is focused on improving or maintaining the quality of gameplay experience. It usually does this only for some players, leaving others, e.g. Black lesbian players, subjected to racist and homophobic interactions during multiplayer gameplay, as game researcher Kishonna Gray has documented extensively.

Towards Abolitionist Antifascism in Gaming

At the grassroots level, gamers are already resisting fascism in various ways; for example, as Kishonna Gray has documented, Black and LGBTQIA+ players have organized themselves to play together in ways that shield each other as much as possible from racist, sexist, and homophobic attacks in multiplayer game forums. In Brazil, people organized to deplatform a fascist gamer group that openly shared contempt towards a Black Brazilian journalist for celebrating Black representation in Valorant. This opened up avenues of harassment by the fascist group’s fanbase, and ultimately led to the mobilization of gamers, journalists, and game developers around the goal of getting the group banned from platforms such as Twitch and Youtube. It’s important to note the strategies used, which included protesting in live streams on Twitch, using Twitter to post and share hashtags about the movement, and ultimately sending emails and complaints to the CEO of Xbox and the Brazilian Public Ministry.

While these grassroots efforts are important, they need to go further, building autonomy from the state and capitalist antifascism. We encourage abolitionists and antifascists to engage with games in creative and strategic ways. Here are some possibilities we would like to propose.

Antifascists have a long history of seeing music scenes as important spaces for social and political life, spaces that must be defended and kept free from fascist appropriation and infiltration. For example, antiracist punks and folk fans have tried to run fascists out of their own scenes, and this has provided a sense of community that has enlivened broader antifascist organizing and mobilization in the streets. But if games are just as widespread as music these days, shouldn’t they also be contested in similar ways? For example, Anna Anthropy said that making indie games is the new form of zine-making.

Grassroots abolition efforts in fields like education also highlight alternative pathways for abolitionist and antifascist coalition building. While the Abolition Teaching Network focuses on addressing the injustices in schools specifically, its guiding principles on Racial Injustice & Abolitionist Social and Emotional Learning help us imagine and think through tangible abolitionist practices in the classroom, which could be combined with educators’ growing efforts to use games as equipment for critical learning and teaching. These efforts are more fruitful than, say, what UNESCO is trying to do.

Anticapitalists can also make our own abolitionist and antifascist games and media, and can create spaces where more people—especially young people—can learn to do this. These could be video games, table-top games, theater games, etc. We can also modify (“mod”) existing games to play them in more abolitionist ways, e.g. playing pro-cop riot simulation games with the goal of making the cops lose. The games we make could prompt players to imagine and conjure unpoliced futures, like the abolitionist video game Kai Unearthed. Or they could be strategy games that simulate direct actions and ways of avoiding police repression, like the tabletop game Bloc by Bloc. They could also help people practice skills needed in abolitionist organizing, including antifascist organizing. Augusto Boal said theater games are “rehearsal for revolution,” and the same could be said of video games and tabletop games. We should not make fun of people for LARPING (live action role playing) as revolutionaries, as long as they know when a situation is a game and when it is a real life conflict with life or death consequences (e.g. an actual riot or an actual street brawl with fascists). LARPing in low-stakes settings can be a way for people to practice and to learn from their mistakes so they’ll be more prepared to handle situations that are not games, where the consequences for failure are much higher.

For example, a game could model and simulate the three way fight itself. There could be three teams: the capitalist state vs. revolutionaries vs. insurgent fascists. Each team needs to decide whether to get involved in conflicts between the other two or whether to sit back, observe, and learn from the conflict. Conflicts between each of the three sides can influence the outcome of conflicts between the other two. For example, the state winning against fascists might increase their capacity to win against revolutionaries. Revolutionaries winning against the state might create openings for fascists to practice fighting the state. Conflicts between revolutionaries and insurgent fascists might be used by the state as a pretext to criminalize and repress both. This is just one way that a game could model a revolutionary struggle against fascists and the state.

Closing Thoughts

Abolitionists and antifascists face a daunting task when it comes to the three way fight that is tearing up digital media, including games. Do we organize ourselves to transform existing corporate platforms, or do we build our own digital infrastructure? Do we try to de-platform fascists from these networks, and if so, how? How do we relate to AI in all of this? While these questions may be overwhelming for many, we don’t need answers to all of them right away, and we don’t need to be advanced hackers, coders, or expert designers to begin to take games seriously. Anyone can choose some games you and your friends like and organize an abolitionist game night, playing the games together in ways that prompt discussions about abolishing police and prisons. And with a range of free and increasingly accessible game design tools like Twine, Unity, and Figma now available, it is easier than ever to learn how to make your own abolitionist game that you can share with your friends. If enough people start doing this sort of thing, we can build robust abolitionist gaming networks that can reclaim games from both the fascists and the capitalists/cops.  

From games to the streets, fuck the police!

In solidarity,

-Three antifascist gamers who are part of an emerging Abolitionist Gaming Network.
(Please reach out to us if you want to connect: abolitionistgamingnetwork [at]

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