A Game Designer’s Analysis Of QAnon


Senior Member.
I recommend reading the article in full; I've tried to excerpt it, but it's probably lost some readability in the process, and it's still very long anyway.
Source: https://medium.com/curiouserinstitute/a-game-designers-analysis-of-qanon-580972548be5


A Game Designer’s Analysis Of QAnon​

Playing with reality

QAnon has often been compared to ARGs and LARPs and rightly so. It uses many of the same gaming mechanisms and rewards. It has a game-like feel to it that is evident to anyone who has ever played an ARG, online role-play (RP) or LARP before. The similarities are so striking that it has often been referred to as a LARP or ARG. However this beast is very very different from a game.
In one of the very first experience fictions (XF) I ever designed, the players had to explore a creepy basement looking for clues. The object they were looking for was barely hidden and the clue was easy. It was Scooby Doo easy. I definitely expected no trouble in this part of the game.
But there was trouble. I didn’t know it then, but its name was APOPHENIA.
Apophenia is : “the tendency to perceive a connection or meaningful pattern between unrelated or random things (such as objects or ideas)”
As the participants started searching for the hidden object, on the dirt floor, were little random scraps of wood.
How could that be a problem!?

It was a problem because three of the pieces made the shape of a perfect arrow pointing right at a blank wall. It was uncanny. It had to be a clue. The investigators stopped and stared at the wall and were determined to figure out what the clue meant and they were not going one step further until they did. The whole game was derailed. Then, it got worse. Since there obviously was no clue there, the group decided the clue they were looking for was IN the wall. The collection of ordinary tools they found conveniently laying around seemed to enforce their conclusion that this was the correct direction. The arrow was pointing to the clue and the tools were how they would get to it. How obvious could it be?

I stared in horror because it all fit so well. It was better and more obvious than the clue I had hidden. I could see it. It was all random chance but I could see the connections that had been made were all completely logical. [..]
This happens because in real games there are actual solutions to actual puzzles and a real plot created by the designers. It’s easy to get off track because there is a track. [..]

QAnon is a mirror reflection of this dynamic. Here apophenia is the point of everything. There are no scripted plots. There are no puzzles to solve created by game designers. There are no solutions.

QAnon grows on the wild misinterpretation of random data, presented in a suggestive fashion in a milieu designed to help the users come to the intended misunderstanding. Maybe “guided apophenia” is a better phrase. [..]

There is no reality here. No actual solution in the real world. Instead, this is a breadcrumb trail AWAY from reality. Away from actual solutions and towards a dangerous psychological rush. It works very well because when you “figure it out yourself” you own it. You experience the thrill of discovery, the excitement of the rabbit hole, the acceptance of a community that loves and respects you. Because you were convinced to “connect the dots yourself” you can see the absolute logic of it. This is the conclusion you arrived at.

Every cloud has a shape that can look like something else. Everything that flickers is also a jumble of Morse code. The more information that is out there, the easier it is to allow apophenia to guide us into anything. This is about looking up at the sky and someone pointing out constellations.

The difference is that these manufactured connections lead to the desired conclusions Q’s handlers have created. When players arrive at the “correct” answers they are showered with adoration, respect, and social credit. Like a teenage RP, the “correct” answer is the one that the group respects the most and makes the story the most enjoyable. The idea that bolsters the theory. The correct answer is the one that provides the poster with the most credit.

It’s like a Darwinian fiction lab, where the best stories and the most engaging and satisfying misinterpretations rise to the top and are then elaborated upon for the next version.

It’s easy for people to forget that they are not discovering the story, but creating it from random data.

Game Play​

Q is a fictional character​

I’m afraid this needs to be said. Q is not a real person, but a fictional character.

QAnon uses the oldest trope of all mystery fiction. A mysterious stranger shows up and drops a strange clue leading to long-hidden secrets which his clues, and your detecting power, can reveal. [..]

There is no reason for this in reality, but fictionally, this is what creates the whole plot, the sense of mystery, and everything entertaining that is to follow. This is the white rabbit. This is the breadcrumb trail out of the forest.

It doesn’t work for reality. Real people in the government with important information to disseminate deliver it as fast as possible usually all in one go. They don’t make you solve things. They try to be as specific as possible. They are whistle blowers. Daniel Ellsberg (the Pentagon Papers). Edward Snowden. Chelsea Manning. Etc.

Q is NOT a whistleblower. Q is a “plot device”. Q is fictional and acts exactly like a fictional character acts. This is because the purpose of Q is not to divulge actual information, but to create fiction.

dO tHe ReSeaRcH​

The fictional reason Q doesn’t just tell the world what they know is that Q wants you to “do your own research” and come to your own conclusions. How polite…

This is not a real reason. Q does not want you to come to your own conclusions. Q is feeding you conclusions. This is VERY important and here are several reasons why this is included in the verbiage of almost every fictional conspiracy theory ever.

1: Follow The Breadcrumbs

Telling people how and what they should think is the path of most resistance. Ideas that challenge us can do just the opposite of convincing us or enlightening us, but further engrain our old ideas. Even when presented with factual evidence.[..]

If the ideas are generated by us, however, then these are the ideas we defend. If we “create” the ideas in our own minds, they become fused much more intently into our personality. They’re OURS. There is no friction. Guiding people to arrive at YOUR conclusions is a perfect way to get people to accept a new and conflicting ideology.

Getting them to arrive at the destination can be a little tricky. You have to guide them there one little step at a time.

In QAnon parlance, these steps, or trail markers leading you into the forest, are called breadcrumbs. Little morsels Q disperses that are easy to digest that lead the players towards wherever Q is guiding them. One little bite at a time.

But the breadcrumbs are not facts, they are questions. Puzzles and clues for the “investigators” to uncover.


There is no need for QAnons to do the research because the fact is, the research has already been done and been done by thousands of trained professionals. The FBI, CIA, and countless non-profits dedicated to solving the issues of trafficking and abuse have already been working on these issues for decades. If anons really wanted to do the research they should research getting a license in social work, psychology, criminal justice, or really anything that might actually be considered research.

Do your own research means. “Don’t trust other people. Don’t trust institutions. Listen to me.”

The conspiracy plot always has the same logic. The reason no one knows about the conspiracy is because of the conspiracy. Not because it doesn’t exist.

Then initiates are given the tools to arrive at “their own conclusions” which are in every way more compelling, interesting, and solve more problems than traditional conclusions. Because they are wrong and fictional. [..]

Gameplay Example:​

Several Q drops insinuate that the ruling class of occultists have the mandate to tell each other who they are through symbolism. A requirement even.

This is a way of creating a rich set of random data that can be linked together by group-think to support the main theory. It’s simple, compelling, and there is plenty of precedent to this idea too. Everyone “knows” that there are symbols associated with magic, occult, and closed societies. Like the mason compass and the pentagram. One of the groups that love to use symbols to alert others they are a member is actually QAnon so the practice is familiar. #wwg1wga

[Examples with pictures excerpted.]

From Fiction to Reality​

Already, the game mechanics have begun to turn on the participant.

The participant is having fun looking around and “solving” riddles reinforced by dopamine rushes and the feeling of being involved in something that no one else knows. They are also now part of a growing, active, and friendly community. Everything they see and hear creates further doubt about people and things they already doubt. Every new theory is easy to understand, compelling, and arrived at through their own ability to reason. Now to doubt certain ideas is to doubt themselves, their ability to see the truth, their community, and maybe the world around them. Quickly, the game is creating an alternate POV that is immensely psychologically satisfying and seems to be supported on all sides as the truth. Celebrities, senators, and even the President are all supportive.

The implications in the Q prompts are one-sided and designed to cast doubt, not offer proof. Once doubt is cast, it is incredibly hard to dispel.

It’s very hard to prove something doesn’t exist. You can’t prove there are no aliens for example. Aliens scientifically could exist so you will never be able to prove that they don’t. You can’t prove someone isn’t in a cult either. No matter what they say. Doubt can not be dispelled easily. It can be grown easily, however.

The doubt grows every day.
Until it isn’t doubt.
Until you’re “pretty sure”.

Of course, Q knows these images of the Rothschilds are out there and knows they are out of context (a surrealist costume ball). Same with the abundance of occult imagery in modern music videos. They are leading you to unrelated information that fits their narrative. Fits the story. [..]

Everything Is QAnon​

Now that people are indoctrinated into QAnon, they can continue the game for themselves with very few cues. The game is everywhere.
All a handler has to do is drop a conspiracy theory on the internet, and within weeks, Q is running with it. Rabbit holes are everywhere. [..]

QAnon is anxious to get into everything! It’s a gathering place. A local pub for conspiracy theories. It’s also a great way to indoctrinate people or “red pill” them.
QAnon is now a force-multiplier. An army desperate for “puzzles” to solve with a clear focus and a broad addiction to the conspiracy community. Anti-Covid, Anti-Vaccine, 5G, and who knows what else?[..]

It is increasingly hard to separate Q from those worried about postal voter fraud or Bill Gates. It’s just latching itself onto anything.


Indoctrination is obviously not a game mechanic. [..]

Q is teaching QAnons how to proselytize.

Q gives instructions that both points to the QAnon theories, but also hides from others that it is QAnon until they have been indoctrinated. This is the replication of rabbit holes and breadcrumbs.

On the posting boards where QAnon grows are lists of memes and instructions for how and where to post them as well as invitations to create and collect them. There are lists of technical resources about how to track individuals through their social media footprint, hack information to reveal poster’s locations, and use a wide assortment of tools designed to gather “information”.

Q also gives specific instructions about how to “red pill” friends and family. How to get people to ask them questions. How to distribute rabbit holes, get people to ask them questions, start bread crumb trails, and spread Q ideas without linking directly to Q.

This is very “cult”. It’s a very clear danger sign.

Not Organic​

“It’s probably some guy who posted a few things on 4Chan and it just took off!” or “This thing came out of nowhere! It’s gone viral!” People think QAnon is viral and organic because that is the intent of QAnon. It’s part of its own story and propaganda.

As a producer of ARGs, this stuff is hard to produce and maintain and keep interesting. QAnon works, again, in an opposite manner from a regular ARG.
Normally, if an indie ARG or interactive story goes unexpectedly viral, the creators begin to struggle. They have less money to spend on more people, more interactions, and a story that gets consumed faster and faster. They have no more time/money/staff and eventually, they have to wrap it up. [..]

This thing goes the reverse way. The more people join it, the more money goes into it. The more effort, the more PR, and the more content. [..]
There is money here and it’s not grassroots. [..]

This is not a loner on the internet that started dropping a few posts and suddenly went viral. I’ve met those people. I’ve been on those projects. It doesn’t happen like this.

This is a media campaign. This is a coordinated propaganda campaign.

800 groups? An ARG with an endorsement from the President? An ARG with physical demonstrations organized for multiple countries and over 200 physical locations. These are not “organic”.

There is even a full-length movie out, paid for “out of pocket” that is being distributed FOR FREE to spread the word. Hundreds of publications for sale on Amazon. This is a lot of work. This isn’t how games work. This isn’t how anything but media/advertising/propaganda campaigns work.

QAnon needs this kind of media saturation BECAUSE it is not a natural movement. People need to be surrounded by it on all sides. It needs to seem popular even when it absolutely isn’t. It needs to seem like everyone is talking about it. They need to see it on YouTube, TikTok, in the papers, in the news, and hear it from their friends. This is all part of making it feel “real”.

This Is Not A Game (TINAG)​

TINAG is an acronym for This Is Not A Game, and it is often associated with the method of running games like ARGs. These games have a theater-like quality to them [..]
But everyone who plays these games, like everyone who watches a movie or uses VR, knows it’s not real even if they are very immersed in it. [..]
People call the actual police if they think there is an actual crime, so your players have to know they are playing a game, or else.

Of course, again, this is the opposite of the stated purpose of Qanon. TINAG is literal.

QAnon seeks to uncover the real story. That’s why people are calling the police, their state reps, and trafficking hotlines. Solving a tough puzzle in a game is a huge rush, but in Q it’s even more-so because IT’S REAL. They’re writing about you in every magazine. You’re on the news. Participants haven’t solved a game, they’ve solved reality! But how does the sense that the false connections the Q participants are making are REAL develop?

It’s not that strange actually. In fact, the difference between apophenia and science is just the scientific process and the reliance on proof. People make the connection before they know for a fact if it’s real or not. Maybe it is apophenia, maybe not. It’s a hypothesis. A theory. THEN YOU TEST IT. The facts determine the outcome and then, whether it feels good or not, you accept them. Even scientists may not want to let go of a good theory that just isn’t panning out. The feeling of correctness is over-powering. This is why people need to have peer-reviews. Colleagues need to be able to replicate results. Solutions need to be tested and the facts harnessed.

In Q, the proof is more apophenia! Another arrow in the dirt in an endless cycle back to the central propaganda. It has to because there is no truth. The answer is whatever feels the best, makes the most sense, and helps the story. Any truth is just fuel for the propaganda and reinforces the conclusions of the apophenia and central narrative.

Qanon is an attempt to create a new reality that can be acted on, lived in “as-if”, and manipulated, but does not match actual reality. Because if they can do that, then they can do anything they want and blame the outcomes on any fictional plot point they choose. [..] Scattershot programs all with the same message and the same end-game. To doubt reality. To create the fog of war without the war. To create a collectively shared reality that they directly control.[..]

Once you accept that the tenets of QAnon are real, or mostly real, it is just as likely to become a religion, a cult, a political movement, or anything else. But definitely not a game! [..]

Let’s end this with the words of Q themselves on how to indoctrinate new members.

How many people are unaware of the ‘truth’ due to the stranglehold?
How must people be made aware of an alternate reality?
What are crumbs (think H-wood/DC)
Define ‘lead-in’ (think play)?
What has been occurring recently?
The stage must be set.
Crumbs are easy to swallow.


Active Member
Fascinating read, I also read some of the similar articles written by other game folks linked from your link.

David Coulter

Senior Member.
As someone newly interested in understanding the Q phenomenon this is good info. Bellingcat published some similar conclusions on 1/7/21. Those authors believe that there are two actors behind Q based on syntactic analyses. The interesting fallacy in the entire Q thing is the premise of "Q" being a Q-Clearance insider. Firstly a Q-Clearance is only for DoE and provides clearance for knowledge of, up to and including, how US nuclear weapons are built and operate. Second, the entire US security clearance system is built on compartmentalization. So how would someone from DoE, even with a Q-Clearance, have any knowledge of global pedophile conspiracies? He or she would never be "read-in" to that intel. I think there is a joke by the LARPer(s) behind the Q game - "Q" is the James Bond Q. The guy in the back lab that kind of knew everything, just like Miss Moneypenny. It plays on the gamer discussion above: there are normal people in the government that know "everything".

The concept of apophenia is new to me but it makes a lot of sense from an evolutionary perspective. Homo sapiens survived and thrived due to our creative and anticipatory capabilities. We possess incredible pattern matching capabilities and the ability to project patterns, and modify them, into the future. Over hundreds of thousands of years the ability to randomly make life and death decisions has programmed our brains to try to match threat patterns and predict outcomes. And anticipate worse threats. So anticipation and prediction based on random information is, I think, wired into our brains.
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