Wolfenstein II and MAGA as fandom

Lucy Miller

Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas, United States

[0.1] Abstract—The current political discourse in the United States is generally understood through the framework of partisanship, but this framework alone is insufficient to encompass all forms of political engagement. An analysis of the discourse around the Bethesda Softworks video game Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus (2017) reveals that the outraged discourse around the references to the current political climate in America by right-wing groups is best understood through a framework of fandom. From this perspective, the discourse around the game is understood as an expression of fandom for President Donald Trump as an individual rather than of a persistent political identity or ideology. As fans, Trump supporters are guided in the political engagement by Trump's pledge to make America great again (MAGA).

[0.2] Keywords—Donald Trump; Ideology; Partisanship; Political engagement;

Miller, Lucy. 2020. "Wolfenstein II and MAGA as Fandom." In "Fandom and Politics," edited by Ashley Hinck and Amber Davisson, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 32.

1. Introduction

[1.1] In October 2017, video game publisher Bethesda Softworks released Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, a direct sequel to 2014's Wolfenstein: The New Order and a continuation of the larger Wolfenstein franchise. The game is a first-person shooter set in an alternate timeline 1960s in which Nazi Germany won World War II and has taken control of the United States of America. Players take on the role of B.J. Blazkowicz, a World War II–era soldier who wakes up from a coma after nearly being killed in an assault on an enemy fortress. Blazkowicz makes it his duty to wrest control of America back from the Nazis using whatever violent means necessary.

[1.2] While the game is set in an alternate timeline in which Nazis control America, the marketing for the game made direct reference to the current political climate in the United States in which far-right groups freely march in public. In one trailer for the game posted on Twitter in October 2017, the developers of the game stated "Make America Nazi-Free Again," a direct reference to President Donald Trump's campaign message of "Make America Great Again" (Gilbert 2017). The trailer itself features footage from the game of Nazis marching down American streets along with the message "Not My America" (Gilbert 2017).

[1.3] These connections to current events did not sit well with members of far-right groups, who took to social media and other online spaces to express their displeasure. One user on Twitter said in response to the trailer, "Oh wow, what a clever marketing trick: tapping into hysterical leftist power fantasy. So current. So subtly political. Wow. Go fuckyourselfs [sic]" (Marcin 2017). Another user said, "Cool. Didn't know Bethesda teamed with SJWs and ANTIFA!" (Marcin 2017). Although the game's developer and publisher may have only intended the marketing messages to be a means of building up hype for the game through references to current events, the messages were perceived by members of far-right groups to be direct attacks against them. Their reactions to the marketing for Wolfenstein II reveal the limitations of the current framework used to understand political engagement (note 1).

[1.4] The current tensions evident in American political discourse are generally understood through the framework of partisanship. This framework leads us to consider those involved to be serious actors engaging in politics through their differing ideologies. In analyzing the discourse around Wolfenstein II, partisanship is insufficient to explain the forms of engagement employed by those involved. Fandom proves to be a more useful framework through which to understand political engagement in this case and in the larger political discourse through its focus on how objects of interest can serve as a means of engaging in politics rather than through a fully formed political identity or ideology.

[1.5] In order to understand how Trump supporters engage with politics as fans of Trump himself, I begin by first reviewing the literature on partisanship to understand how Trump supporters' engagement differs. I then make the argument that Trump supporters' actions are best understood through the framework of fandom using the concepts from Ashley Hinck (2012) of public engagement keystone, ethical framework, and ethical modalities. Trump's campaign promise to "Make America Great Again" (MAGA) serves as the primary ethical framework and guides the actions taken by his supporters. In this case, Donald Trump serves as the object through which supporters engage with politics, and his pledge to restore America to greatness serves to guide the actions they take in response. This framework for political engagement becomes clearer when analyzing the discourse around Wolfenstein II. I conclude with suggestions for how engaging with Trump supporters differs when viewed through the framework of fandom.

2. Partisanship and political discourse

[2.1] The current heated political discourse in the United States is generally attributed to partisanship. Partisanship has been studied both as a social identity and as an attitude (Bartle and Bellucci 2009, 5). As a social identity, partisanship is defined by Angus Campbell, Philip Converse, Warren Miller, and Donald Stokes in The American Voter (1960) as "the individual's affective orientation to an important group-object in his [or her] environment" (121). From an attitude perspective, partisanship is defined as an individual's ever-evolving relationship to parties (Fiorina 2002, 98). Partisanship can be understood either as an important part of an individual's identity or as reflective of an individual's attitudes toward the existing political parties and ideologies.

[2.2] In order to resolve these opposing interpretations of partisanship, Bernard Grofman, Frank Wayman, and Matthew Barreto (2009, 71) focus on the contextual nature of partisanship, arguing that party identification is not just an enduring social identity or reflective of current attitudes on relevant issues but may be either, depending on the context the individual finds themselves in. Eric Groenendyk (2013, 5) reinforces this contextual understanding of partisanship in his dual motivations theory by arguing that partisans look both to identify with the party that matches their policy preferences and to maintain an existing party identification. Partisanship is, therefore, not just a social identity or an attitude but can function as either, depending on the contextual needs of the individual.

[2.3] To better understand partisanship's role in current discourse, it is important to recognize that partisans express themselves in ways more in line with defenses of avowed social identities or with conceptions of themselves as neutral observers making objective assessments of the actions of the parties, depending on what is most effective in the situation. How we conceive of ourselves politically and how we communicate with others on political issues are shaped by partisanship.

[2.4] Political elites also play an important role in partisanship because elite polarization leads to greater polarization among citizens (Levendusky 2009, 104). The polarized positions taken by elites on important issues signal to citizens that they should take more polarized, partisan positions as well. How political elites talk about important issues and about their fellow citizens has a significant impact on political discourse because of the outsized role played by elites. Even when trying to be inclusive of specific, local audiences, political elites like presidents cannot avoid framing the audience in contrast to other citizens who fail to embody national ideals (Beasley 2001, 37). Polarized communication is just part of the fabric of American political discourse. This framing of some citizens as not embodying national ideals is part of an effort to manage the pluralism of the American identity (Beasley 2001, 37).

[2.5] Citizens look to political elites and parties for messages on how they should feel and act in regard to the issues that dominate the current political context. According to Howard Lavine, Christopher Johnston, and Marco Steenbergen (2012), citizens "operate according to three motivational principles when forming political judgments: (1) least effort, (2) sufficiency, and (3) belief perseverance" (12). Dependence on political elites and parties fulfills these principles by reducing the time and energy citizens have to exert to take a political position, making citizens feel that they have done their due diligence in making such decisions. As the political parties in America have become more ideologically distinct, this dependence ensures that their beliefs on an issue will continue to be supported. Parties provide clear signals to voters that the actions taken by politicians, should they be elected, will align with their beliefs (Grynaviski 2010, 2–3). High levels of partisanship make it easier for citizens to confidently make political decisions. Partisanship, though, not only shapes the positions taken by citizens on important issues but also shapes how these issues are understood.

[2.6] Partisanship, both of political candidates and citizens, leads to political issues being framed differently (Arbour 2014, 605). The parties make decisions on how to frame issues both through the candidate, allowing them to draw on how the candidate fits within the traditional views of the party, and through the citizens, showing how the candidate will uphold citizens' dominant views on an issue. Issues are not defined solely through elite discourse, however. In an analysis of the effects of party affiliation and partisan media on attitudes toward same-sex marriage, Dyann Diercks and Kristen Landreville (2017, 207) found that the partisan messages had indirect effects based on attitudes toward homosexuality, meaning that someone who already held negative attitudes toward gay people would be affected by partisan messaging on the issue.

[2.7] Partisanship is shaped just as much by existing attitudes toward political and social issues as it shapes people's attitudes toward these issues. The effects of partisanship on citizens' perceptions of political issues and of the different positions on those issues demonstrate the complex ways people form their political identities and opinions in an increasingly polarized context. These effects are even more apparent when citizens engage with partisan messaging.

[2.8] Increased partisanship in media leads users to inaccurately predict public support for their positions. Exposure to partisan media congruent with the user's ideology leads to "biased perceptions of public opinion" and the "perceived public support for one's opinions was associated with political outspokenness and politically meaningful acts" (Dvir-Gvirsman, Garett, and Tsfati 2018, 126). Because of this perception of greater public support for their positions, partisan users are often not prepared to deal with opposing opinions. Encountering online comments critical of their party often leads users to become more polarized (Suhay, Bello-Pardo, and Maurer 2018, 107).

[2.9] Use of uncivil news sources also tends to lead people to practice more incivility (Gervais 2014, 575). Partisans are less likely to be able to handle criticism of their positions and more likely to engage with others in an uncivil way. Such uncivil engagement also cannot be dismissed as an unfortunate byproduct of users encountering opposing positions in their search for more information on an issue; disagreeable discussion of politics online is driven more by emotion than by information seeking (Lyons and Sokhey 2014, 245). Users become uncivil because of the emotions they feel when engaging with opposing positions, not as a result of trying to engage with the opposing position to gain more information on the issue. Anger is one of the primary emotions prompted by partisan news messages. Online news that matches the user's political position leads to greater anger toward the opposing party and to more sharing of information (Hassell and Weeks 2016, 653).

[2.10] Sharing of information is the result of an effort to support the feelings held by partisan users, rather than the reason they chose to engage with political issues in the first place. Partisan media also has so come to shape our perceptions of politics that watching news from a different partisan position leads to less trust of the opposing party (Levendusky 2013, 576). This decrease in trust and increase in emotions like anger when encountering opposing position will only continue to increase because the rhetoric of ideologically homogenous groups tends to become more antagonistic (Warner and Neville-Shepard 2011, 209). Partisanship clearly has an impact on how users understand their positions on political issues and engage with those who hold opposing positions.

[2.11] Partisanship tells us a lot about the current political climate in the United States. Our partisan identities are very important to us and inform our attitudes toward political issues and parties. Our partisan positions are informed by the polarized positions taken by political elites and by the beliefs and attitudes of others within our social networks. Partisanship also shapes how issues are framed. We are drawn to messages that affirm our partisan positions, and this engagement with partisan content shapes how we perceive and interact with others, making us less trusting of and angrier at those who hold opposing positions.

[2.12] Partisanship plays an important role in current political discourse, but is it enough of an explanation for all forms of political engagement? When looking at the discourse around Wolfenstein II, I argue that the engagement seen in this case cannot be fully explained by partisanship. Partisanship reflects identification with a particular political group that holds certain ideological positions that inform an individual's attitudes on political issues. The discourse around Wolfenstein II lacks these qualities, and our reliance on the framework of partisanship leads to an inability to fully understand an important part of our current political discourse. In fact, the framework of fandom provides a more accurate means of understanding the discourse around Wolfenstein II.

3. MAGA as fandom

[3.1] Fandom differs from partisanship as a means of explaining political engagement in terms of its object of interest. Partisanship is grounded in behavior generally accepted to be expressive of civic identity, such as party identification and political ideology. Few would question classifying a card-carrying Republican or libertarian's behavior as political. The behavior of fans, on the other hand, is seen as of a different sort than the clearly political behavior of partisanship. Fans may exhibit a deep commitment to the object of interest that is similar to partisanship, but the difference is that fans are seen as having internally invested interests while partisans are seen as necessarily having to engage with those who hold opposing viewpoints. Fans' actions are also seen as having an impact only within the fan community and on the bottom lines of those companies whose financial success depends on fan texts whereas the behavior of partisans is positioned as having clear impacts on the entire political system. Recent history provides an example of the potential influence fandom can have on politics in the form of GamerGate.

[3.2] Online fandom, especially right-wing reactionary practices within fandom, can only be fully understood within the context of recent online harassment campaigns, most notably GamerGate but also the Fappening (the release of nude photos of female celebrities and other women) and campaigns directly inspired by GamerGate such as fans advocating against diversity and progressive values in comics under the banner of ComicsGate, the Sad Puppies' attempts to organize fan-voting for the Hugo awards so that more conservative sci-fi authors would win, the harassment of actors like Leslie Jones and Kelly-Marie Tran, and the review-bombing of movies like Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) and Captain Marvel (2019) in attempts to express outrage at the continued diversification of Hollywood. GamerGate is the focus here because of the role it played in shaping and inspiring future reactionary movements.

[3.3] GamerGate was an online harassment campaign against women and other marginalized groups that began in August 2014 with false allegations made against game developer Zoƫ Quinn by an angry ex-boyfriend of her trading sexual favors for positive press coverage of her video game (Salter 2018, 252). The harassment brought down on Quinn and many other women associated with video games, notably Anita Sarkeesian, Brianna Wu, and Leigh Alexander, was justified in the minds of many GamerGaters by perceiving their targets as outsiders to true gamer culture. Claims were made that the outrage was inspired by a supposed lack of ethics in games journalism, but the targets of the harassment reveal the true motivations of the campaign.

[3.4] GamerGate can be understood as "a performative exercise of identity-building" (Muñoz-Guerado and Triviño-Cabrera 2018, 195). This identity was originally centered on playing video games. "Gamer culture began as a way to create a sense of belonging, but with it came the need to exclude others in order to retain that. Gaming was part of an identity, that identity was shaped by the way games were designed, and games were designed as a way to cater to that identity—a cyclical loop which helped create the male-centered norms of gamer culture" (Ruxton 2017, 460). The construction of this identity around certain features of the group members and of games themselves lead to others, primarily women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ people, being included only as outsiders to the dominant identity of "gamer" (452). As the culture changed to more actively include those once excluded, members of the dominant group of gamers began to lash out at no longer being privileged as the true representatives of the community (464).

[3.5] GamerGaters view the world in binary terms of true, hardcore games and outsiders, which "precludes coalition by demarcating identities and making culture seem a zero-sum scenario of gaining and losing power" (Evans and Janish 2015, 130). The desires expressed by GamerGaters to prevent further changes to the video game industry they believe are driven by feminists and Social Justice Warriors (SJWs) reflect an inability to cope with shifting political and social realities (Chess and Shaw 2015, 216). Grafting these feelings onto cultural products allows them to be more effectively directed against those seen as the cause of the changes, whether in their roles as game developers or critics (216). With the increased presence of formerly excluded groups within gaming culture and the changes made to video game texts to reflect the wider tastes of this expanding gaming culture, GamerGaters perceive themselves to be victims by no longer having their tastes solely catered to.

[3.6] GamerGate shares with the alt-right this belief in their own victimhood (Bezio 2018, 557). The fervent belief that they are the true victims of hostile and illegitimate opponents shapes the public image of both movements. "It is an ethos of ostensible disenfranchisement which ignores the fact that what is being removed is a centuries-long legacy of unwarranted supremacy—that the equality of others does not in and of itself diminish the humanity of those who have always stood alone on the top of the mountain" (564). The public image of the movements is built around the harassment of those considered outsiders. As a result of this behavior, both GamerGate and the alt-right can be understood as "toxic technocultures," which "are unique in their leveraging of sociotechnical platforms as both a channel of coordination and harassment and their seemingly leaderless, amorphous quality" (Massanari 2017, 333).

[3.7] The culture of harassment that developed around GamerGate was dominated by two behaviors. First, they behaved like a swarm in that there was no obvious leader directing the movement (Mortenson 2018, 789). Without a leader, there was no one to rein in the more noxious and violent aspects of the movement, but there was also no one directing their harassment toward specific targets, leading to a lashing out at anyone associated with the individuals or marginalized groups excluded from gamer culture. Second, they behaved like hooligans in that their participation in attacks was often driven by the thrill of conflict with a perceived rival team rather than deep ideological commitments (Mortenson 2018, 796). Online platforms support these sorts of behaviors by privileging the "aggressive and competitive qualities of geek masculinity" (Salter 2018, 256).

[3.8] Online fandom is still wrestling with the aftermath of GamerGate. Even though GamerGate may no longer receive as much media attention, "the cultural and technological conditions that gave rise to Gamergate remain intact. Gamergate's core narrative that treasured symbols of techno-masculinity, such as video games or the internet, are being destroyed in a 'culture war' waged by feminists and progressives has merged with other reactionary masculine identity movements and taken on unexpectedly virulent forms" (255). The reactionary politics of GamerGate have found new life in the alt-right and MAGA supporters of President Donald Trump. The connections between the movements go beyond just adoption of terminology or tactics for organizing the harassment of others, as the MAGA supporters behave more in line with the expectations of fans than of traditional partisans.

[3.9] Ashley Hinck offers a means of understanding how objects of fan interest guide engagement with the political and civic spheres. She argues that fan texts and communities provide a public engagement keystone, a "touch point, worldview, or philosophy," that guides civic actions (2012, ¶4.6). The object of fan interest serves as the medium through which fans engage with civic life. Hinck then argues that the fan object provides an ethical framework, "a worldview or a frame of understanding based on an ethic that is theoretical and all encompassing," which leads to certain ethical modalities, "a way of meeting an ethical obligation" (Hinck 2016, 8). The difference here between fandom and partisanship is that the object of interest that leads to political engagement is often a product of popular culture rather than a political party or ideology. The means and methods of political engagement differ because of the difference in the object of interest that is at the root of their behavior. Partisanship is widely understood as contributing to people's political engagement, but fandom provides a means for better understanding that engagement when its origins do not lie within established political parties or ideologies.

[3.10] This brings us to Donald Trump. Through my analysis of the discourse around Wolfenstein II, I argue that the behavior of those supportive of Trump more closely resembles that of fans rather than partisans. Trump's MAGA supporters are fans of Trump, not traditional conservative or right-wing partisans (note 2). If Trump is the public engagement keystone through which his supporters engage in politics, what ethical framework does he provide and what ethical modalities does this framework lead to?

[3.11] The ethical framework provided to Trump supporters is encapsulated in his "Make America Great Again" campaign slogan. Every action he takes or belief he expresses is interpreted through the lens of returning the nation to its (supposedly) lost greatness. This leads to a set of ethical modalities defined by an "ends justify the means" attitude. Anything is permissible so long as it is in service to restoring the nation to greatness. The vision of what constitutes greatness for Trump is limited solely to the nation's material wealth, not the ideals that it strives to live up to and communicate to the rest of the world (Edwards 2018, 189). Atrocities like locking children up at the southern border and attempting to ban all Muslims from entering the country can be excused so long as America is doing well financially. These attacks on internal and external others are based on the idea that these groups are interfering with the project of making the nation great again, which "functions by casting aspersions and tapping into existing prejudices and disaffection" (Peters 2017, 38).

[3.12] This worldview of insiders and outsiders is consistent with Trump's perception of politics as "a world of polar opposites, in which representatives of the two sides have completely opposed characteristics" (Fuchs 2017, 57). Trump constructs his supporters as insiders to the MAGA project by positioning them as powerless, which they enjoy for the sense of agency it provides (Johnson 2017, 239). By constructing themselves as powerless in the face of the political and social forces that interfere in their project of achieving national greatness, Trump's supporters see themselves as being given license to take action to overcome the powerful forces standing in their way. Trump's call to "Make America Great Again" was built on this fear of a changing nation (Goldman 2017, 71).

[3.13] An important explanation for his supporters for why the nation is now declining is the political and social changes that have taken place in their lifetimes. This reveals the promise Trump made in his campaign slogan to be "driven by resentment and anger, not a vision of restoration" (Deneen 2017, 29). This led his supporters to "emote—to express uninhibited feelings of fear, anger, and hatred" (Ivie 2017, 708). Trump's ethical framework of making America great again led his supporters to see themselves as insiders to this project who are united in combating the powerful global forces that stand in their way. The main ethical modality inspired by this framework is to lash out in fear and anger at those who are seen as outsiders—generally the socially and politically marginalized and oppressed—interfering with the MAGA project. The discourse around Wolfenstein II is best understood through this framework rather than more traditional partisan alignments.

[3.14] How do the comments made about Wolfenstein II's marketing reflect the ethical modalities available to Trump supporters? Trump supporters expressed clear feelings of anger about the messaging of Wolfenstein II's marketing and its drawing on contemporary politics. Along with the "Make America Nazi-Free Again" ad, the marketing made direct references to the "Unite the Right" rally that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia, with a message that there is "only one side" in the fight against Nazis. It also referenced the meme of white nationalist Richard Spencer getting punched on inauguration day in January 2017 with a video of the main character punching one of the Nazi enemies in the game (Dornbush 2017).

[3.15] Trump supporters did not interpret these messages as confined to the fictional alternative universe of the game but took the marketing as making direct political statements. The primary feeling evoked by this interpretation was anger. One user on Twitter encouraged the game's developers to clarify that they are not anti-Trump, saying, "I dislike how you phrased this. You guys might want to make a statement that you guys dont [sic] hate Trump or freedom" (Marcin 2017). Another user said in response to the marketing, "Yay more political agendas and false equivalences being shoved down my throat! Because every1 [sic] I disagree with is a nazi [sic]!" (Shitty Gamer Takes 2017b). Another user reinforced the idea that the anti-Nazi messaging was supporting a clear political agenda and predicted negative financial results for the game: "Glad you're now giving me a reason not to buy your crap. It's not like pushing political agendas today fires back in a good way" (Skarn 2017).

[3.16] Along with supporting a vaguely left-wing political agenda, the marketing was also interpreted as symbolic violence against Trump supporters and other right-wingers, with one user saying, "Oh a Trump joke, because the subtext is advocating murder of Trump supporters. Pretty funny, devs!" (Gilbert 2017). Perceived symbolic violence in the marketing was translated to threatened material attacks by Trump supporters. One user expressed excitement over retaliating against anyone who purchased the game, saying, "Can't wait to spit at people buying this game in store. Great way to expose Anti-fa degenerate losers. Cheers lads" (Wolfenstein 2017). A user also threatened actual violence against anyone who supported the perceived political agenda found in the game's marketing: "Fine, please try! COME AT US IN REAL LIFE," posted with an illustration of a soldier holding a gun along with Nazi imagery and the phrase "We are not dead yet" (Wolfenstein 2017).

[3.17] These emotional responses to the game's marketing, ranging from mild upset at the perceived political agenda underlying the game to threats of actual violence, are part of an ethical modality in line with the ethical framework laid out by Trump of lashing out over any perceived slight. These are fans of Trump who are upset with how they perceive the game's marketing to be attacking Trump as a politician; they are not conservative partisans who have a true political disagreement over the ideology supported or the policies proposed in the game or its marketing. As fans, Trump supporters feel the need to defend Trump the man from any perceived attack, based on the ethical behavior taught to them by Trump. This defensiveness is also supported by the other ethical modality found in Trump's ethical framework, the perception of the group as powerless and in need of defense from more powerful forces.

[3.18] In order to construct themselves as powerless, Trump supporters must first show that they are the true video game fans that developers should be making games for. One user says of the game's perceived political agenda, "You have no idea how much you just sold out your core demographic to side with a bunch of whining sjw's that don't buy your games" (Shitty Gamer Takes 2017a). The Trump supporters angry at the game's marketing are presented here as the true gamers who have been betrayed in an attempt to appeal to other groups. Video games are understood here as the domain of a limited group of people, namely cisgender, straight, white men who lean politically conservative. Any game that does not clearly privilege this group is perceived as a betrayal, as seen most clearly in the misogynistic and sexist harassment of women in video games organized under the banner of GamerGate (Todd 2015, 66).

[3.19] If this reaction was only about the audience for video games, it would be just fan behavior that does not intersect with the larger political discourse. However, Trump supporters made it clear that the game was not just a betrayal of their conception of themselves as gamers but also of certain qualities of American identity that they have come to see as embodied in Donald Trump. As one user said, "People aren't mad about nazis [sic] being killed in Wolfenstein, they're mad because the game seems more like an attack on whites, capitalism, and traditional American values" (Maiberg 2017). By connecting the game to larger political issues in the United States, Trump supporters have made it clear that their fandom is not oriented around video games but around Trump. The style of interaction seen in this case may be in line with the general discourse online (Shaw 2014, 275), but the particular form it takes here is guided by the ethical framework set up by Trump. The game is seen as hindering efforts to restore the nation to greatness, so attacking those expressing or supporting the messages found in the game is constructed as ethical behavior for Trump fans.

[3.20] Having constructed themselves as powerless by no longer being the only group that matters in the worlds of video games and politics, Trump supporters must identify a more powerful force in society that is undermining the efforts to make the nation great again. Not surprisingly, the efforts to construct a more powerful force in society are rife with anti-Semitism. One user explicitly connected their hatred of Jewish people to the construction of Trump supporters as the true fans of video games: "And because bethesda jews [sic] are trying to destroy gaming industry with political correctness faggotry…If we fall, gaming industry ceases to exist. You think any of those cucks actually buy games? They simply want to ruin the gaming industry" (Maiberg 2017). The language used here also reflects popular anti-SJW (social justice warrior) discourse, particularly the attack on political correctness and the use of the term "cuck," which is used to refer to anyone who does not have the vigor to stand up to the SJW menace.

[3.21] SJWs and political correctness are seen as the truly insidious forces undermining society. Some of the concerns raised are fairly mild, such as one user's hope that the game would not be politically correct (PC): "Please Bethesda, do not give into the PC pressure…Don't let the PC Police curb your game making" (Robertson 2017). Political correctness here is seen as stifling the true creativity of game developers. Like Trump supporters, game developers are unable to resist the power of political correctness—if they could, video games would clearly match the perspective of Trump supporters. The fact that games do not is an illustration of the clear power of political correctness and the powerlessness of Trump supporters. The attacks by Trump supporters are seen as acceptable because of this powerlessness.

[3.22] If Trump supporters are powerless in the face of political correctness, then SJWs are the group pushing and benefiting from it. While some, like the previously cited user, are willing to conceive of the game's developers as being merely unable to resist the power of political correctness, other users position the developers as SJWs themselves. Evidence for this was seen in the text of the game itself by one user, who said, "This game looks like an SJWs wet dream. Fighting (actual) nazis [sic], black women being racist toward white people and an actual 'resistance' that will probably succeed in this fictional world" (Robertson 2017). Other users just take it as a given that the developers are SJWs. One user said, "It's been fun playing your games until you removed your balls for SJW points" (Nawara 2017). Another user expressed dismay at the developers' adoption of an SJW identity and warned of dire financial consequences for this shift: "Don't go all SJW on us…You *will* lose customers if you keep this up" (Nawara 2017). After using a racial slur to express disdain for the number of prominent black characters in the game, one user argued that the developers' adoption of an SJW identity is reflective of the downfall of the video game industry as a whole: "when bethesda goes SJW you know the game industry is fucked" (Robertson 2017).

[3.23] From the perspective of Trump supporters, the video game industry can no longer be saved because it no longer centers them. They construct themselves as the true fans and argue that the industry should cater solely to their desires. They perceive themselves as powerless because of the shifts that have occurred in video game content. In line with the ethical framework provided by Donald Trump, that every effort should be made to return the nation to greatness, Trump supporters perceive the fall of video games as further evidence of the nation's decline. They must speak out against the capitulation by game developers to political correctness and the powerful SJWs who promote this perspective. Only then can video games—and, by extension, the nation—be saved.

[3.24] This rhetoric of the fall of video games and the nation found in the discourse around Wolfenstein II reflects the ethical modalities associated with Trump's ethical framework of making the nation great again. Trump supporters construct themselves as powerless in the face of political correctness and SJWs while also arguing for their power to ruin the video game industry financially. This is in line with Trump's conception of the true power in the nation being constrained by illegitimate forces. The nation would experience unparalleled safety and prosperity if only Trump was able to implement his draconian immigration policies. The video game industry would reach new heights of financial success if only companies would center Trump supporters in their games. Constructing the group as powerless allows for attacks by the group to be excused because they are only standing up to the more powerful forces in society. Attacking is also acceptable because it is in service to restoring the nation. These qualities of current political discourse are not accessible from a framework of partisanship. When political engagement is understood from the perspective of fans looking to emulate their object of interest rather than as partisans committed to working to improve the nation from different perspectives, new means of engagement become possible. Suggestions for how to engage from this perspective are explored in the conclusion.

4. Conclusion

[4.1] Donald Trump's supporters are guided by the ethical framework of "Make America Great Again." This leads to ethical modalities of perceiving the group to be powerless and engaging emotionally with those perceived as benefiting from the social and political changes in the nation. In the discourse around Wolfenstein II, this manifests as perceiving the in-group as the true fans of video games who are being left behind as the video game industry caves to political correctness in an attempt to appease the out-group of SJWs. The perception of themselves as powerless allows Trump supporters to lash out at game developers and other fans for not privileging them. These aspects of the current political discourse are absent in the framework of partisanship. The insights offered by the framework of fandom lead to suggestions for differing means of engaging with Trump supporters.

[4.2] First, the labels of partisanship should be applied carefully. Many Trump supporters bristle at labels like "right wing" and "alt-right" not because their views do not fit with these ideologies but because they are engaging as fans of Trump and not as committed partisans. More effort needs to be made to explain why the views of Trump supporters fit these partisan ideologies instead of using these labels as an easy shorthand. Media scholar Christian Fuchs provides a model for this kind of analysis through his identification of the different elements of Trumpism as an ideology (2017, 48). Rather than assigning a partisan ideology to Trump and his supporters that they can easily brush off, Fuchs identities key components of the ideology that Trump espouses to show how it is similar to that of other right-wing groups while also demonstrating its own unique qualities. By being thorough in the application of partisan labels, the labels themselves are harder to deny. The caution argued for here is not intended to deny the far-right beliefs held by many Trump supporters but to consider how that audience will receive such labeling. It is important to show why the beliefs of Trump supporters fit a particular ideology rather than using partisan labels as an easy shorthand.

[4.3] Second, reinforcing their ethical modalities should be avoided. When dominant groups in society begin to feel their power declining, they often go through the stages of grief as they try to come to grips with the changes (Jones 2016, 198). Denial and anger are the first stage of this process (198–99), and Trump supporters can be understood as expressing these feelings in their response to Trump's calls to "Make America Great Again." Rather than changing in order to adapt to the new realities, Trump supporters seek to go back to a time when their power and status in society were unquestioned. Pushing them to greater levels of anger is counterproductive because they view their attacks as legitimate. Their dominance is the only way they have ever conceived of the world (Jones 2016, 229), so any means of returning the nation to greatness is seen as justified.

[4.4] Although arousing these supporters' anger via insult and dismissal has cathartic appeal because of their constant attacks on others, what is needed is more pushback against their construction of themselves as powerless. British sociologist Anthony Giddens has argued that power is having the ability to act on the world around you (1984, 14). Powerlessness, then, would be the experience of your actions no longer having an effect. Many Trump supporters are used to being in a dominant position and having the power to shape society. When they look around now, they see their actions having less of an impact on others. Their anger about immigrants seeking asylum on the southern border of the United States or the representation of Nazis in video games is no longer accepted as the default position. They feel powerless because they believe their actions should have more of an effect, while still wanting to present themselves as the dominant group who should be catered to exclusively. This paradoxical position of powerless dominance can be seen in their claims of their financial impact on the video game industry or other expressions of their inherent power. They believe their desires should be catered to because of the power they inherently have as a result of their dominance within the industry and society at large. They perceive themselves to be powerless because these actions do not have the immediate results they desire. In order to counter this ethical modality of powerlessness, they should be pushed to provide evidence to support their position; they should be forced to wrestle with the contradiction in their claims to powerlessness in the face of illegitimate forces while they also are claiming the power to bring down social and political institutions.

[4.5] Finally, their conception of themselves as powerless is reflective of the ethical framework they are operating under, which argues that the nation has declined and their perceived powerlessness is evidence of this decline. Their perceived powerlessness is the result of their actions no longer having the results they expect; it is not statistically verifiable or the product of a victimhood ideology. It is a strategy for achieving the goals encapsulated in their ethical framework. It is an effective strategy as well; as philosopher Eric Hoffer has argued, people are drawn to mass movements like MAGA because they provide a sense of belonging and identification with something larger than the individual (1951, 35–36). Many Trump supporters are drawn to the movement because the ethical framework of decline Trump has put forward speaks to their frustrations at their perceived loss of their dominant place in society. Moving forward, it is important to determine whether Trump's supporters believe in him because of the resonance between his ethical framework and their existing concerns and prejudices or if they have become true believers in MAGA as a mass movement who will stick with Trump no matter what he says or does. For those who find resonance with his ethical framework, it is possible that a different framework could persuade them to abandon Trump for an individual or movement that better reflects their concerns. For those who are true believers, it becomes more difficult to persuade them to abandon Trump given the fulfilling role that mass movements often provide people (41–42). Our concerns should lie primarily with contesting Trump's ethical framework because this is the course of action most likely to produce results.

[4.6] Fandom provides an alternative perspective on political engagement and behavior. Ethical frameworks and modalities help us to understand how people can take unified action while not being driven by the same partisan ideology. These concepts also help to better explain the personality-driven success of someone like Donald Trump, whose supporters act out of loyalty to him as an individual and not in accordance with a shared partisan identity. By recognizing the differences between partisanship and fandom, new strategies for engaging with political opponents—from being more thorough in the deployment of labels to disrupting their ethical modalities—become possible. A firm belief in Trump's MAGA pledge can only be challenged by defusing the emotions that drive supporters' engagement, pushing them to reckon with their perceived powerlessness in the face of their continued dominant positions in society.

5. Acknowledgments

[5.1] My thanks to the reviewers for their extensive feedback and to the editors, Ashley Hinck and Amber Davisson, for organizing this special issue.

6. Notes

1. When analyzing social media posts and other online comments, there is a legitimate concern that the statements have actually been produced by bots and are not being expressed by actual people. For the purposes of this article, though, I am interested in analyzing these posts as part of the public discourse surrounding the game. The posts are treated as legitimate parts of the discourse by the journalistic outlets covering the incidents and are treated in the same way in this article. Should a significant portion of the statements made in response to the marketing of Wolfenstein II be revealed to be part of an organized bot campaign to misrepresent the views of the MAGA movement, the argument made in this article will need to be revisited.

2. It is certainly up for debate whether Trumpism is a fully formed political ideology yet. I would argue that it is still in the development stages at this point in time, with Trump's supporters still focused mainly on Trump as an individual rather than on the ideas that develop from his political behavior.

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