Defeating the forces of fascism, authoritarianism, and capitalism is going to take some serious IRL effort. But before millions of people are ready to go to vote, protest, organize and revolt, they’re going to need to be offered some compelling reasons why they should.
Mass movements are not started by individual political campaigns or getting vote-shamed by celebrities. They’re started by groups of people talking about change everywhere; in workplaces, places of worship, the bowling alley, the coffee shop, and today… on Twitch and gaming Youtube.
According to Twitch, over 70% of millennials have gamed in the last 60 days, and they attract over 140M monthly unique viewers. Over 80% of their users are male, with 55% of them falling in the 18-34 age group. There are lots of people and interests competing for their attention, and for a while, the bad guys have been winning. Your nephew or neighbor is only a couple of suggested videos away from full-on fascism.
Not for long, though; we’re highlighting the work of 15 channels on Twitch and Youtube that are using the vehicle of games, game streaming, or game critiques to also include commentary on class, capitalism, and labor while increasing the visibility of socialism and everything to the left of it.
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For leftist Cities: Skylines Youtuber donoteat (real name: Justin), it all started with SimCity 2000 and the old Simtropolis forums.
HIGHLIGHT: donoteat’s video on gentrification:
“A long time ago, there was something like the current city building videos on there,” he says. ” They were called city journals, and there was one series called “Adventures in New Urbanism.” It was the first deep dive into how cities are planned, and how that planning is dumb and bad, and how to plan denser development and walkable streets.”
As a kid growing up in suburban Virginia, which Justin refers to as a “suburban hellscape,” the Simtropolis forums provided a gateway from playing city-planning games into understanding how actual cities could be planned.
Justin kept playing city-building games, and IRL, his interest in city planning kept growing: he studied civil engineering at Drexel University, and ended up working at a historic preservation/engineering firm in Pennsylvania.
“I had this idea for a Cities: Skylines video series that focused on urbanism for a long time,” he says. “I just didn’t have any time to put it together. Then I got fired, and I had a lot of time to put it together. You talk over the game while you build stuff, and I thought maybe I could put some actual information in there.”
Radicalizing Justin (and his channel) ideologically from standard YIMBY urbanism to leftism took a few pushes: the election of Donald Trump, living in a rapidly gentrifying city, and getting fired from a job.
“Two or three years ago, I would’ve been saying, ‘we gotta do tax credits, we gotta do means tested benefits,” Justin says. “We’re gonna build some kind of business improvement district, and tax it in order to fund stuff. Those polices seem to turn into a mush to me now.”
In June, Justin started putting out chronological Cities: Skylines videos centered on a fictional city called Franklin. Starting in the 1660s, each video covers a different topic: organized labor, liberalism, TRAINS, and there’s a side series called Power, Politics & Planning, which has tackled topics like parking, highways and gentrification. The gentrification episode, in particular, is one of the most digestible breakdowns of the subject from a leftist perspective that I’ve found anywhere.
“I hope to create some sort of left wing discourse around urbanism, something easier than reading all of these huge papers,” he says. “You hear all sorts of stuff coming out of West Coast DSAs or something, opposing denser housing, and I don’t fully understand what’s going on there. There was a Chapo episode making fun of the YIMBY movement, and there’s a lot of those people that are worth making fun of. But the whole concept that we have to stop development in its tracks is probably not practical. You have to actually build more housing. I want to give people somewhere to go and say, ‘here are leftwing policies and principles that we can use to build better communities.”
Justin edits in Adobe Premier, and records & renders his videos using a computer “built from my roommate’s spare parts in a case from 2004” and a monitor “salvaged out of the reject electronics pile.” To keep the rig from overheating, he uses a box fan set up next to the computer tower.
After slowly growing his channel and Patreon for a few months, Justin got a big break in September when Kotaku profiled him. His video views and Patreon skyrocketed; today, he’s at over $2,800/m.
I interviewed him before the Kotaku article came out, and at the time, he was feeling good.
“The job search isn’t working out too great,” he said. “But the Patreon is going pretty quickly, all things considered.”
For donoteat to afford Philadelphia, we’re going to have to hope his Patreon keeps growing, because “I gotta get those rent checks in.”
“When I came to Philadelphia, my rent was under half of what it is now, but I’m now living in a smaller apartment than I was back then,” he says. “We have a 25% eviction rate in some neighborhoods. I think our biggest problem is the 10 year tax abatement. You get a 10 year property tax abatement if you do whatever the city calls “new construction” which is extensive renovation or new building. People will tear down old houses, and then put up a new, much larger single-family house on the same lot. This is how they tried to stimulate development back in the late 80s and early 90s. These huge buildings don’t contribute to the tax base, and won’t for ten years, and the school district is underfunded.”
As a member of “leftist gaming Youtube,” Justin is part of a movement of people who aren’t just doing response videos.
“The left on Youtube has to go beyond doing response videos,” he said. “You have to go on the offense here. You have to say this is how it can be, these are left policies.”
2. The Go Off Kings
HIGHLIGHT: Jesse (handle: TheBeerIdiot) was featured in a PUBG Broadcaster Royale Highlight reel, where the announcers checked in on him while he was doing an in-depth breakdown of a toilet, followed by him suiciding by throwing a grenade.
Go Off Kings (Feat. Neil) – PUBG Broadcaster Royale Highlight Reel – Insane Kills – Ridiculous Snipes – Best PUBG Players In The World – Part 1 pic.twitter.com/0u8Uw22izC
— The Go Off Kings (@GoOffKings) September 24, 2018
“At first it was just me and Stefan Heck,” says Jesse, a person in Tennessee who has written for VICE and Deadspin, co-hosts Your Kickstarter Sucks with Michael Hale (aka Dogboner) and has been targeted in the right-wing media multiple times for tweets suggesting that right-wing students be drowned by professors, celebrating the death of Barbara Bush, or that Billy Graham died sucking his own dick.
“I get out there and shoot my mouth off a lot,” says Jesse. “Ultimately for me, I don’t know what political action would look like. I don’t have a lot of credibility, but I identify as a socialist. I would’ve voted for Bernie Sanders if I could’ve.”
Jesse got into streaming video games as an excuse to pick on his friend Stefan for liking Hearthstone.
“It just started out as Stefan being really interested in Hearthstone,” Jesse says. “I could never really understand what he was talking about, and he’s Canadian and meek and I’m a jerk. I’d always make fun of him about it, and he said he’d teach me how to play it on a ‘stream,’ kind of bringing an oaf into modern gaming.”
From there, the stream branched out, and it really took off once they added Rob Whisman to the mix.
“Rob is the actual ‘Go Off’ guy,” says Jesse. “He’s like Lenny from Mice and Men. He’s sweet, but he has a fuse, and he can go off on a variety of topics. He has a lot of anger at a lot of stuff. That’s where the name ‘Go Off Kings’ came from.”
Whisman and Heck, like Farrar, are not necessarily out there as “leftists speaking out for the liberation of all people,” but are visible as extremely funny people whose cultural and political sensibilities line up with weird leftist Twitter.
“The community is the active part of it,” says Farrar. “I don’t know that we have to do a lot of pruning, it is very well-curated. Most of it is self-selected, people who follow us on Twitter and like our stuff to begin with, and are drawn from that.”
Part of the uniqueness of the Go Off Kings is that they kind of suck at video games, which at first, seems odd for a Twitch channel, but it creates an expectation where it’s all about the gags.
“I’m in my 30s, and my reflexes are done,” says Jesse. “I’m not going to suddenly become Ninja. We’ll have to do stuff that’s ‘funner,’ more involved, more written gags. We’re all comedy writers and wannabe comedy writers.”
One of the best features of the stream is the ability to tip the Kings by sending them delivery food from an ever-changing menu via Treatstream, which they then eat on camera. At one point, they had the “Cynthia Nixon,” which was lox and cream cheese on a cinnamon raisin bagel.
As opposed to a high-octane stream where there are hundreds of APM, the overall vibe is more like a podcast which people can enjoy passively while multi-tasking.
Even though Twitch’s association with gaming and gamer culture seems to skew it to the right, Farrar is hopeful about its future as a better platform than Twitter.
“It’s too late for Twitter to be fixed, but Twitch can figure it out,” he says. “For us, that takes the form of moderation and inclusion. I know how Ninja feels about women, and that’s unfortunate. Mike Hale and I will talk about Twitter on YKS, and it just feels like they’re going for quantity over quality. People can use Twitter to say hateful garbage, but on Twitch, you can have moderators who have the power to put people in timeout.”
The stream has grown, and with it, the Kings have dedicated more and more time to being on Twitch. They’ve upgraded to actual gaming/streaming rigs, designated spaces in their homes for streaming, and are planning on streaming at least 15-20 hours a week.
Jesse hopes that the platform becomes more accessible to people other than “white guys.”
“There really is a monetary hurdle to making it functional,” he says. “You can do this on a certain level and it’s acceptable, but by a certain point, you have to make a technical jump. For us, it was PUBG. We needed resources to get online and streaming at the same time.”
3. Azure Scapegoat
Azure Scapegoat is a Swedish orthodox Marxist named Mio.
HIGHLIGHT: Mio recorded a Hearts of Iron China playthough where he replaced Chairman Mao with Brother Hao, a Nigerian-born singer who went viral in China in 2011 for singing “Without the Communist Party There Would Be No New China.”
“In my free time, I make Youtube videos about whatever I feel inspired to make them about,” Mio says. “Sometimes that’s politics, sometimes that’s video games, and sometimes that’s politics and video games.”
In early 2017, Mio made one of the best leftist videos on Youtube that explains the difference between socialism, communism and Marxism. His motivation: to avoid having to explain himself all the time, which I believe is a great reason to make content online.
“The whole reason I made it was so I can send it to people as a quick explanation,” he says. “If you’re active politically on the internet, you’ll find yourself debating people. Zizek once said he hates debates, but he likes to write, because then you don’t get a bunch of stupid questions. That’s basically my opinion. My videos are things I can send people so I can avoid debating people on various topics.”
His early success led Mio to create another invaluable resource, Socialism101.com, “a huge page of frequently asked questions about socialism and capitalism, so I don’t have to spend a lot of time talking to people.”
Talking to Mio was kind of a trip, because as an American, I view the Scandinavian culture of social democracy as something that’s way better than what I have right now. To hear Mio put it, the problem with social democracy as it stands is that it’s not far enough to the left, creating lots of inequality.
“I was a social democrat my entire time growing up, and most of the people in the village where I lived were too,” he says. “When we moved to a city (Gothenburg), we couldn’t really find an apartment anywhere except the less nice part of town. That’s where me and my family lived for about four years. I went to school in central Gothamburg, and traveled from the poverty-stricken side to the nice side every day, seeing the contrast between them in such a small area. I saw the difference in finances and class. That, I suppose, made me realize that this system that we have right now is not satisfactory.”
“Socdems said well, they have to pull themselves up by the bootstraps, join a union, get a slightly higher wage,” he went on. “I didn’t find that satisfactory. Social democracy is the system we’ve had in Sweden since the beginning of the 20th century, and sure, it’s done a lot of nice things for us, but it’s done it very slowly. Since the 90s, the social democratic party has gone back towards neoliberalism and privatization. They’ve been stepping toward the center and the right. I didn’t really get filled with hope by the social democratic side of the left.”
Mio looked further to the left, becoming friends with syndicalists, anarchists, radical feminists, and plain old socialists too. They’d all observed the same differences in class.
“The system is designed to be unfair, it’s designed to not be equal,” he says. “The problem isn’t with the minimum wage, or the working hours, this or that tax cut. The entire socioeconomic system of capitalism, which is rooted in the West, needs to be adapted to what is modern and based in our material conditions in the 21st century, on fairness and the value of human life and the value of capital.”
Mio went on to explain what Orthodox Marxism is.
“Essentially what it is, is that I believe in Marxism and the ideas of Marx,” he said. “Engels, the First International are part of the orthodoxy, and Leninism and Maoism later on are additions and bonuses that don’t necessarily stray away, but they’re not Marxism in and of itself. I tend to prefer being less authoritarian in my ideological beliefs than a Leninist or Maoist, for example. I don’t believe in de-centralization or communes, but I also don’t believe in the suppression of human rights, freedom of speech, or freedom of religion.”
For someone who likes to avoid verbal debates and explaining himself, it’s been a natural fit to use gaming as a common ground to explore political ideas and identities.
“I think it makes it into a bit of a friendlier environment,” he says. “When you talk about Marxism on the Internet, even with other Marxists, it becomes a hot topic. Not all Marxists think alike. If you have two Marxists in a room they’ll eventually find something they disagree on, and try to strangle each other eventually. Video games, people can come together and make memes about how bad I was at Tropico or whatever.”
Azure Scapegoat’s discord server seems to have a pretty wide range of different leftist ideologies, including some non-liberals and center-right people who are there for the memes and the discussions.
“It’s definitely important to have a diversity of views and opinions,” he says. “Some people who watch gaming videos or livestreams, they watch for hours daily. Even if there are just brief mentions of politics in every one of those videos, and eventually it sticks with you. If all the streamers and let’s players are right-wing, then their audience is going to become right wing.”
Mio primarily focuses on strategy games like Hearts of Iron 4’s Kaiserrich mod (very popular among leftists) and the Tropico series, but also recently livestreamed a Sims 4 playthrough featuring an avatar of Karl Marx.
Azure Scapegoat doesn’t have a Patreon, but the Socialism101 site has a donation page.
JackSaint is a leftist video creator who has done some gaming-adjacent videos (including his latest on NPCs), and is also the founder of AniSoc, a “socially conscious art, animation and creativity” community of a few hundred people on Discord and Twitter. In addition to promoting the usual big dogs like PhilosophyTube, Peter Coffin and Contrapoints, AniSoc also helps people discover lots of smaller creators who are starting out.
HIGHLIGHT: In July, Jack put out a video titled “TOP 5 Spyro Reignited Changes Us Gamers Do NOT Want To See, Or Else!
“My interest has always been in literature; I tended to do poorly in other subjects,” Jack says. “As I got a little bit older; I realized that issues of discrimination and leftist topics interested me when it came to fiction. I wanted to create full animated pilots which deal with oppression. There weren’t too many spaces where you can push it to people. It led me to Youtube.”
Growing up in Essex, Jack was raised by a single mom solidly in the working class, which informs his politics today.
“We sort of saw from the ground floor the not so great environments that working class people have to work under,” Jack says. “There were so few people going from working class to middle class. It was a real sense of an economic cultural divide; she always let me question my politics. Leftism and socialism is where I ended up.”
According to Jack’s Patreon, he’s getting close to the point of doing regular livestreams.
“I used to do more livestreams, and I tried to integrate gaming into that,” he says. “I was playing Prison Architect on stream. I may finally have a setup that’s good enough to stream.”
“My girlfriend and I are hopping into guilds on World of Warcraft, and it’s interesting how many people are responsive to conversations about politics,” he says. “Now, you get a lot more people talking about what Trump’s been up to. I’ll bring up topics in the chat and people will talk about them.”
A few weeks after our conversation, Jack streamed some WoW on Twitch, touching on subjects like condiments under communism, WoW currency being more valuable than Venezuela’s and unions for creative workers.
It wasn’t enough for the dirtbag left’s leading irony merchants to have a NY Times bestselling book and a six-figure Patreon; now they’re taking over Twitch, too. ChapoFYM is the living embodiment of a utopian future that was described in their book: one where a failson can post in the morning, game in the afternoon and podcast after dinner.
Felix from the podcast is joined by friends like Chet, Alex, Michael, Tom and Aaron as they stream on Fortnite Friday, Fortnite FSaturday, Fortnite FTuesday and Newgrounds dating sims on Sunday nights. Chet, with his background as a Halo 2 god, tends to hard carry everyone while they make le epic bacon rage faces and fantasize about shaving Michael Tracey’s legs.
Also, on Saturday, November 10 they’re going to run a 24 hour stream marathon to fundraise for Trans Lifeline. We love it!
Hbomberguy is a visible comrade, who came up on Youtube fighting the good fight against the skeptical atheist crowd. Corporatist and capitalist critiques are a strong undercurrent in many of his critiques of the video game and movie industries, and his Twitter account delves deeper into those topics from time to time.
One highlight was in late 2016, when he said that “companies acting in their own best interest is almost inherently bad for everyone involved.”
Shaun kind of has the same deal as Hbomber; he identifies with socialist ideas and has fought the good fight against Youtube’s right-wing, anti-feminist, transphobic fascist crew, and critiques of capitalism and corporatism are often interwoven with how his takes on games.
8. Hasan Piker
Hasan Piker is among the youngest of the Young Turks, and gained a reputation as the “woke bae” in every progressive’s Facebook news feed. In March, he started streaming on Twitch. After long days of doing things like debating Ann Coulter and getting yelled at by Charlie Kirk, Hasan will hop on Twitch, engage directly with his fans, and then fire up games like Fortnite, Red Dead Redemption 2 or Call of Duty.
Gwen_No_Fear is a social justice Youtuber, writer and trans activist who has made videos and content about fascism, feminism, trans identity, Black Lives Matter, anarcho-syndalism and many other leftist topics.
She regularly streams video games like Overwatch, Lego Star Wars, Skyrim and Fallout 3.
As seen in Gizmodo and Wired, ClimateFortnite is a collective of scientists and citizens who stream Fortnite and Eco while talking about climate change.
(Update: I guess this isn’t really a socialist or leftist channel, they’re merely acknowledging the existence of climate change being caused by humanity).
Based on what I’ve seen of Destiny, he seems to be kind of a left of center person who is open about the inherent hypocrisies and trade-offs of capitalism and liberalism. He is not a leftist, but in the framework of this article, his channel can be a path leftward for people who are falling down the right-wing Youtube and Twitch rabbit hole. Someone could stumble across him for his debate with a right-wing shitlord and then end up watching a video with Hasan Piker, for example.
Here he is talking about this year’s Politicon while playing Minecraft.
12. Sloth Mom
Sloth Mom typically streams on Twitch on Wednesdays, and tweets the rest of the time about “politics, social issues, and games.”
An example of that intersection was her Twitter critique of The Surge, where she wrote, “I’m very much here for the depiction of the very late-stage capitalism company that’s bustin’ unions and covering up shady stuff. I’m far more invested in it than I expected I’d be.”
Curio is an up and coming leftist Youtuber who recently put out a “nuclear hot take video” about how Bloodborne is “actually about capitalism and how shit capitalism is.”
A late addition to this article, Emerican Johnson (aka Non-Compete) has a career arc that we can personally relate to: a marketing guy playing by the capitalist rules had an epiphany around 2016 that capitalism and creativity don’t mix. For the last eight months, Emerican Johnson has been putting out high-quality leftist content on Youtube, some of it involving puppets! Inspired by DoNotEat, he just started a new Cities:Skylines series called Company Town. The first video is titled “Exploiting the Working Class.” Looking forward to more:
15. Peter Coffin
Twitter: 24,400 Followers
Youtube: 227,636 Subscribers, 2,638,522 Views
Peter Coffin isn’t really focusing on gaming anymore, and has expanded their mandate to general critiques and commentaries on philosophy, gender, marketing campaigns, culture and economics. But I am arguing that they belong on this list because they are a visible leftist in the gaming community, especially after the whole Gamergate thing.
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