In a new paper for Social Media + Society , Daniël de Zeeuw and Alex Gekker analyse the origins of QAnon as a form of participatory online play. They theorise its development as a form of “conspiracy fictioning” while reviving the notion of hyperstition.
Abstract: The QAnon movement, which gained a lot of traction in recent years, defies categorization: is it a conspiracy theory, a new mythology, a social movement, a religious cult, or an alternate reality game? How did the posts of a (supposedly) anonymous government insider named Q on an obscure online imageboard in October 2017 instigate a serious conspiracy movement taking part in the storming of the US Capitol in early 2021? Returning to the origins of QAnon on 4chan’s Politically Incorrect board and its initial reception as a potential LARP, we analyze it as an instance of participatory online play that fosters deep engagement above all. Drawing on concepts from play and performance studies, we theorize the dynamics by which QAnon developed into an influential conspiracy narrative as instances of “conspiracy fictioning.” In particular, we revive the notion of hyperstition to make sense of how such conspiracy fictionings work to recursively “bootstrap” their own alternate realities into existence. By thus exploring the participatory and playful engagement mechanisms that drive today’s conspiracy movements, we aim to elucidate the epistemological and socio-political dynamics that mark the growing entanglement of play and politics, fact and fiction in society.