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    The politics of the NPC meme: reactionary subcultural practice and vernacular theory

    Gallagher, Rob ORCID logoORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-2096-3889 and Topinka, Robert (2023) The politics of the NPC meme: reactionary subcultural practice and vernacular theory. Big Data and Society, 10 (1). pp. 1-16. ISSN 2053-9517

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    Abstract

    The acronym ‘NPC’ originates from videogame culture, where it refers to computer-controlled drones whose behaviour is dictated by their programming. By 2018 the term had gained traction within right-wing subcultural spaces as shorthand for individuals apparently incapable of thinking for themselves. By the autumn of 2018, these spaces were awash with NPC memes accusing liberals and leftists of uncritically accepting progressive doxa and parroting left-wing catchphrases. In mid-October, with midterm elections looming in the US, Twitter banned over 1000 NPC roleplay accounts created by supporters of Donald Trump, citing concerns over disinformation. This event was much discussed both within right-wing subcultural spaces and by mainstream media outlets, serving as an occasion to reassess the political effects of digital media in general and reactionary memes in particular. Here we use a combination of computational analysis and theoretically informed close reading to trace the NPC meme's trajectory and explore its role in entrenching affectively charged political and (sub)cultural faultlines. We show how mainstream attention at once amplified the meme and attenuated its affective resonance in the subcultural spaces where it originated. We also contend that while the NPC meme has served as a vehicle for antidemocratic bigotry, it may yet harbour critical potential, providing a vocabulary for theorising the cultural and political impacts of communicative capitalism.

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