Agar.io is a fun, free multiplayer game you can play right now. It’s also become a political battlefield.
In the game, you play as a tiny, coloured cell gunning to eat smaller cells and avoid being slurped into someone else’s gelatinous cellmass — gradually, agonizing bit by agonizing bit — yourself. It’s extremely simple but weirdly compelling, especially once you factor in the ability to detach parts of your own body and launch them at other players — thus making yourself smaller and faster, but also more vulnerable. Here’s what it looks like, courtesy of Eurogamer:
It’s thrilling, being able to go from small fish in a big pond to big fish in a small pond and back again in seconds. People can also use images in combination with their usernames, so their cells can end up coloured like, oh I don’t know, national flags.
Oh, right: politics. I was gonna get to that.
The game has thousands of concurrent players on each of its regional servers — a total that rivals some of Steam’s most-played games — and it’s grown especially popular in Turkey. Turkey is a bit more than a week away from a huge election that could see its ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) dethroned — or rather, stripped of its current supermajority supremacy over other parties. It’s a big deal, especially for the traditionally oppressed Kurds, who are attempting to gain some leverage through political party systems as opposed to exercising a separatist policy, something that led to prolonged bouts of violence in the past. While there’s hardly unanimous agreement, the Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) is trying to break through the ten per cent threshold that would get them representation in parliament. AKP does not like that.
Right now, things are close. Precarious close. Photo finish close. The HDP and parties with whom their interests align are going all out, which means — you guessed it — video game references (among many other things). Here’s one from HDP, as documented by Redditor gschamot:
HDP’s political view is mainly based on defending Kurdish people’s rights. The purple ball’s name says “us”, blue ball represents %10 threshold that they need to pass in order to be represented in the parliament. (This is the first time in the history that they seem they will succeed passing %10 threshold.) Orange ball’s name is “the palace”, representing the luxury palace that Erdogan built recently as presidential palace. The light blue ball’s name is “oppression”.
And here’s one from CHP, a larger party that’s also quite interested in taking a slice of AKP’s political pie (also explained by gschamot):
CHP is the biggest opposition against AKP. They receive the second biggest percentage of the votes while defending a secular Turkey idea. If they form an alliance with HDP and MHP they can beat AKP in the upcoming elections. But first HDP needs to pass %10 threshold.
And it’s not just the parties. If you log into Agar.io’s EU server, you’ll likely come across tons of players whose names reference either Turkey or Turkish politics. These players have been known to team up (even on free-for-all servers) ingesting everything in their path like a procession of Pac-Men — Pac-Men with opinions. They have also been known to team up and ingest me, five minutes ago. Sometimes they fight among each other, especially when clashing political ideals are involved. Other times they devour other countries.
It’s a strange place for national and international conflicts to manifest, but it’s not all that surprising when you think about it. Agar.io is tremendously popular and (or perhaps because) it gives people tools to represent themselves, their identities. Turkey’s melting pot is boiling over into all sorts of places, and this free PC game is no exception.