Hakim, the Masked Gamer of Minneapolis
Internet madness, Gamergate, and the special happiness of farewells.
Unless Wikipedia is mistaken, the original sources of information on Hakim, an anon (or, more strictly, pseudonymous internet personality) and participant in online conflagrations, are but four: (a) utterances on social networks preserved at archive.is; (b) storified twitter interactions curated by prominent adversaries; (c) a series of now-deleted YouTube postings; and (d) a mysterious and ambiguous image unearthed from a Flickr account.
Hakim's early notoriety, such as it was, may be attributed to certain threads at r/gamerghazi, whose mockery was laden with sighs and longings. Much on social media could at least theoretically have been faked.
THE SCARLET EGG
120 days after Eron Gjoni posted his enormous and crudely defamatory posting about game developer and former lover Zoë Quinn, a long-dormant egg account on Twitter with the handle @turkestan began posting.
At first a mix of relentless spite and unbranded anonymity, it received little interest in the run-up to Christmas. Only later would we learn that Hakim's birthplace was Minneapolis, Minnesota, whose strip malls and video billboards look out sadly onto a desert of snow. Winter there is white and dazzling.
We know that one of Hakim's uncles was a programmer—that craft, a refuge for atheists and impostors and liars, inspired the first and last personae of Hakim's online presence. But in the traces of his earliest internet activites we find no rage, only a series of half-finished, tantalizing game development projects. On livejournal, a 2006 posting details efforts to learn and understand Flash. The filenames of long-broken download links suggest attempted implementations of Breakout and Space Invaders. Remnants of a MySpace page, mirrored at archive.org, suggest an aborted 2008 effort to develop an Asteroids-like space RPG. There are complaints about trigonometry, about the stability of Adobe's software. A 2011 post at TIGsource describes ideas for an elaborate, byzantine social "meta" MMORPG.
"Games are just a shadow of the world," writes the poster thought to be Hakim. "My folks don't think that it's a worthwhile thing to enjoy, let alone make. I've been trying to figure it out for years. Everyone lies about how easy it is to make games... my code is crap."
In 2012, Hakim disappears from the 'net. The Livejournal was taken down, forum accounts closed, and all his Flickr photos deleted but one.
By the end of 2014, GamerGate's putsch against the mainstream media seemed spent. Most targets remained unbowed. Held collectively responsible for every abuse performed in its name, its ethical aspirations ridiculed, its adherents easily-led by hucksters and panderers, GamerGate became a narrative prop for journalists to thrash at their discretion.
To others, the graduation of hardcore gamers to trolls seemed a natural progression. To themselves, they were a cruelly-maligned subculture, a genuine consumer revolt at war with a corrupt enthusiast press that sold short its readers.
Gathering in subreddits such as r/kotakuinaction and the shifting dunes of 8chan, they awaited a sign. Their setting sun had not yet slipped below the sand. For all that had been said about its reactionary leanings, GamerGate's roots sink deep into the strange empty space where adolescent fraternity once flourished, into the heart of gaming culture.
And in 2015, gaming culture means videos.
Out on the dizzying expanse of youtube (whose content brings on fever and whose comments bring on convulsions), a video showed a man, apparently of immense height, looming over a webcam in a generic gray-walled American room.
In the low-fi, artifact-patterned gloom, he possessed the head of a bull. As the stream checkerboarded into clarity, the head was seen to be a cheap rubber toy head.
The first comment asked what was with the stupid mask. Six hours later, there were 4,759 comments. A day later, there were 277,130 views.
A lengthy curation of tweets, posted to Storify by unrelenting GamerGate critic @a_man_in_chartreuse, details how the YouTuber (whose voice was extraordinarily sweet, in contrast to the harshness of the mask) told his audience that it wasn't really about game journalism. Polygon, Kotaku, Destructoid, Ars Technica, Rock Paper Shotgun… none of them were relevant. They were cloned, palette-swapped villains, not even guardians, and not a shadow of the bosses.
The true enemy was feminism, and the greater powers at work promoting it. The failure state for gaming was not game journalism but the feminized society, drifting from reason into the void.
He told them that he was Hakim, and explained—over dozens of rambling YouTube missives, often posted late at night—that what they saw as a fight of the moment was actually an expression of a gender war, a dialectical kulturkampf rooted in the very origins of Anglo-Saxon modernity.
Superficially erudite and witty enough, Hakim explained that women might once have been victims, but had long surged past their historical burdens. The result: an ahistorical salient that threatened to impose a irrational and fundamentally totalitarian worldview on western civilization. A sneering, creeping censorship, well-couched in the language of justice and rights, was just the beginning. Gamers stood at a critical historical moment, and would be key to the generational—but always temporary— victory or defeat of either side.
Elaborating on the elusive tenets of chan culture (but not so much as to trigger its immune system)‚ Hakim wedded millennial entitlement with scathing Gen-X libertarianism. He ranted, repudiated and reviled. He shepherded crowdfunding campaigns for dubious charities, for meetups he did not attend, and for documentaries that never quite seemed to come together. He adeptly turned the degenerated academic terminology of progressive activism against it. His Patreon earned him $3,670 a month. He exhorted gamers to a jihad, of sorts, and reminded them slyly that anonymity means one may never fear martyrdom.
THE MASKED PROPHET
Outraged, paragraph-long post headlines at Ghazi narrate with no enthusiasm the rapid inroads made by Hakim and his gross bull mask. /hakim/ even earned his own board at 8chan, through it fell into disuse after the site changed domains.
By the end of January, Hakim had exchanged his uncomfortable, unsettling bull head for a more endearing "V for Vendetta" mask, painted purple beneath a dark green hat. It is true that subreddit threads mocked and ridiculed Hakim's pretentions and myriad errors, but since the most frequent coincidences of those discussions was the departure of loathed game journalists from twitter, or the conspicuous updating of conflict of interest policies at leading game news websites, it isn't difficult for the sagacious reader to read between the lines.
On Valentine's Day, 2015, an anonymous YouTube remix of Hakim's tenor ranting, mashed up with the Red Alert Death March theme and footage from SWAT raids, scored a million page views in 24 hours. It was as if arrows whistled all around him in the heat of battle, yet he was never wounded.
He even made displays of magnanimity: on April 24, Hakim praised Caitlyn Jenner for her courage and fortitude—with the hashtag #notyourshield.
So long as one's tweets do not altogether contravene dogma, diversity of opinion is in fact tolerated by GamerGate and its opponents alike. Hakim, who quoted Anarchy, State and Utopia in discussions of Pokemon, would not have spurned the advantages of that neglect. But his growing microcelebrity forced him into the heresy that led to his unraveling: after an uncharacteristic weekend of silence, Hakim posted his idea for a game, and announced a crowdfunding campaign to fund its development.
Hakim's game is a political simulation, a vast but elegant model of society where each non-player character has a political "bias" from -100 to 100. When two encounter one another, their relative dispositions trigger hostile or friendly interactions, which push their political leanings closer to one another—or further apart. Player characters, however, have the privilege of deception: they can present themselves at any point on the political spectrum during any given interaction.
After convincing 9 people to follow you, a discliple can be sent out autonomously into the game world to convince 9 more. This expanded circle can do so again, and in turn spread the word to a larger, lower shadow of the growing party. And so on, until all the game's entities are consumed by one faction or another, and the annihilation begins.
Hakim's description struck gnostic notes for fans of The Matrix to appreciate: "Society is an error, a parody," he wrote. "Can you see through it?"
No effort was made to garnish the coldly robotic logic of Hakim's simulation with an engaging scenario or aesthetic. The Kickstarter pitch page portrayed his sims as faceless I Know That Feel Bro mannequins. The game landscape was endless white geometry redolent of New World Order paranoia and Tron, a wondrous Hell of mathematical emotions.
A screenshot of the proposed ending screen for winning players was less concrete: an animated pixel art depiction of a beautiful stone fountain at night accompanied by a disarming reflection.
The Kickstarter was abandoned nine days in.
By May, 2015, Hakim had achieved sufficient prominence to be under constant siege in each of the venues he posted. No YouTube videos had been published in weeks, but his tweets continued apace, growing into a tone of rhythmic, almost exalted abstraction. The names "Alinsky" and "Soros" graduated from intellectual punctuation marks to Pavlovian bells for some 38,000 followers. But Hakim was obviously tired. There was talk of the long fight, of those that had fallen, of the silent but certain support from an army of lurkers.
A mysterious plain-text document spread so fast its murky attribution was immediately obscured.
Ugly and unformatted, yet packed with metadata, the compilation was copied from various websites, private messaging, and other sources. The source: Hakim's girlfriend, disgusted at her lover's behaviour and obsessive interests, ragequitting the relationship and exposing everything. In the dump was Hakim's given name, addresses, family members, employers, evidence of other internet personae, even a library card number.
And a link to a photograph, the last picture left on Flickr.
The dox spread like fire among the faithful.
At first oblivious, hammering away on Twitter, Hakim continued appealing to familiar Gods for FTC intervention, for everyone to keep sending emails to Gawker's advertisers. Servilely, with no periods before their at-mentions (as though whispering to a friend) two prominent supporters tweeted @turkestan with links to the dox, to the image that claimed to reveal the prophet's visage.
Instantly Hakim gave perfunctory likes to the tweets. Then the likes disappeared. Then Hakim's account fell to silence. Then the Flickr account disappeared.
The head of the prophet, the head which had demanded ethics in game journalism, was indeed colored. But hers was the color of social justice: a thatch of brightly-dyed hair dancing across a cheek, pressed against that of the ex-girlfriend in a broad, happy smile.
It was so incredible that it seemed to be a mask. She (and Hakim was clearly female) had pierced eyebrows; the lower eyelid of the right eye sported a tiny, cute tattoo. A dangling cluster of lip rings sprouted from her lips.
And below, a link to a pastebin curation of Hakim's countless online incarnations, of every political and ideological variety, all as wrathful as the others.
Hakim attempted one final deception: "This bullshit is typical of the SJWs," she tweeted.
No one was listening; her mentions were buried in abuse.
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