It seemed innocent enough. Cats, good. Fascism, bad. Pretty straightforward, right? Turns out, for those on the far right, not so much.
My organization, The TESA Collective, which makes games for social causes, created a new board game that’s about fighting fascism – but as cats in space. Appropriately, it’s called Space Cats Fight Fascism. Think Star Wars meets Cats the Musical. The game is meant to be funny and inspiring, something for people who want to change the world but who also need a break from the daily onslaught of terrible news. Players take on the role of Space Cat rebels, resisting the rise of the fascist Rat Pack.
After we launched the Kickstarter for Space Cats Fight Fascism, we were met with an overwhelming wave of support from people who, you know, don’t like fascism. And then… the flood of bigotry and harassment began.
We started to see a torrent of Facebook comments and some twitter posts filled with anything ranging from homophobic slurs to literal pro-fascist statements.
There’s been stuff much worse than that, but honestly, I don’t feel like amplifying hate speech. It’s also not totally clear how all these people found out about our game in the first place. Probably a mix of Facebook’s bad targeting, maybe the game got posted on a forum somewhere, and/or maybe there was disturbance in the fascist force that called out to them.
So at first, we tried to engage with these commenters. But we should have known not to feed the trolls. It only seemed to make matters worse, and the attacks became personal. And sometimes… uh… yeah. Weird. Just see for yourself.
And then there were the comments like the one below, straight up touting the supposed advances of the Nazis…
Yup. These are real people.
The attacks couldn’t help but feel disheartening, even with the tremendous amount of support we were also receiving for the game. Yet it was also a good reminder about why we made this game about fighting fascism. There are actual human beings with these beliefs out there.
So we decided to ask ourselves – what would the space cats do in this situation? Then it came to us: they’d treat these defenders of fascism with absolute contempt.
That’s when we started to respond to the hate speech and harassment with the most powerful tool in our arsenal: cat memes. And wouldn’t you know it, that is what seemed to neuter the haters. (Unfortunately, it wasn’t the rational arguments. But I guess we should have known better.)
Wondering why the space cats weren’t fighting communism/socialism was a pretty common theme among those outraged by this game. Yeah, because they’re the exact same thing as fascism!
Was anyone upset that Luke Skywalker was taking on a fascist empire? Or that Indiana Jones was fighting the Nazis? It’s honestly strange – and scary – that fighting fascism has become so controversial in our country.
It is particularly telling that these people are seeing themselves in the mirror when a critique of fascism comes up.
The bad news for those who feel antagonized by a game about resisting fascism and want us to starve is that we are going to be able to eat just fine.
Oh, did we mention that this game is going to be manufactured by a worker-owned cooperative, in the United States, and on sustainable materials? Sorry fascists, all of this money is going to be benefiting both every day working people and the environment.
So while there are still instances of hate speech and harassment targeting our campaign, because apparently a game about cats in space fighting literal fascism is terribly upsetting, many of those on the far right were unprepared to handle the cat memes. The vitriol has started to die down. Some fascist sympathizers even deleted their initial comments when we followed up with our cat responses. And some of our own supporters are replying to those fascists that are still coming in with cat memes and gifs of their own.
So we’re wondering – did the cat get the fascists’ tongues?