The Streis-Hand Effect: How Gaming Fell For a 4Chan Prank

This is an editorial piece. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of, and should not be attributed to, Niche Gamer as an organization. 

Throughout the past few years a 4chan prank has taken on a life of its own, and resulted in a new conspiracy that is making the rounds within certain social circles. From high ranking American attorney Zina Bash, to a lowly Coast Guard grunt just doing his job, an accusatory net of white supremacy has been cast around individuals for the silliest of reasons. Their crime? Making an innocuous hand gesture that throughout its history has meant everything from an excuse to punch someone via the “circle game,” to a means of signifying that everything is a-okay. Within gaming circles, especially as it pertains to Esports, it’s a symbol that simply means “got ’em.”

With the exception of the sting of getting punched by your peers, how did a once harmless hand gesture become a symbol of white supremacy in the eyes of the media elite? Well the answer is simple, it’s the outcome of an internet trolling campaign that found striking results due to a phenomenon that many call ‘The Streisand Effect’.

Coined after Barbra Streisand’s attempt to suppress photos of her home in the early 2000s led to the public only wanting to see more photos of her residence, the Streisand Effect is a circumstance in which the attempt to cover something up only brings more attention to it.

Since the inception of the term it has been used to describe a variety of incidents. A notable example of this is when The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea tried to prevent the release of the satirical film The Interview.

The Interview, a comedy directed by James Franco and starring him and his pal Seth Rogan, portrays a CIA operation that forces two actors to assassinate Kim Jong Un. This naturally led to anger from the North Korean government, and may have spawned the infamous hacking scandal that overtook Sony in mid-2014.

Following threats from DPRK and the hacking incident itself, Sony, along with a host of movie theater chains, caved in to pressure and halted the film’s theatrical release. Inevitably, this created an environment in which more and more people wanted to see the film.

After widespread criticisms of caving to a hostile foreign nation, Sony decided to release the film online via streaming services on Christmas Eve of that same year. Subsequently, this caused it to become the most successful Sony digital release.

So how does this all relate to the okay symbol hand gesture?

Well, back in early 2017, the popular internet forum 4chan launched ‘Operation O-KKK.’ The goal of the prank was to convince people that the gesture meant “White Power” due to the positioning of the fingers that makes it appear as if you’re spelling out the letters ‘W’ and ‘P’.

What immediately followed 4chan’s inundation of social media with claims that the symbol was now racist, was only what can be described as a media shit-show as large publications began to denounce those, or more specifically, those on the right, who had been photographed holding the okay gesture at the camera.

Ignoring that its use has been prevalent in popular culture and politics for ages, the media took the bait and ran with it.

Since then its usage has been constantly denounced. Any internet search for “okay symbol” will reveal countless news articles writing it up as a symbol of hate, Nazism, and white supremacy. Making matters worse is when the New Zealand mosque shooter held up the gesture in court. Immediately the media dove in to express that he had held up a “white power” sign.

There’s no doubt in my mind, and I hope this is likewise for everyone reading this piece, that the mosque shooter (whom I refuse to name) is a psychotic, vile, and just plain evil human being. However, that doesn’t change the fact that he simply held up the symbol to troll the media. Something he expressed he was going to do in the trashy dribble he wrote that is his manifesto.

Yet the media, quick to ignore intent and keep sticking to a narrative, even if they know it’s false, decided to keep pushing the notion that the symbol is bad. A notion that has now begun to affect society and the media-at-large, as even innocent people who use it, regardless of if their intentions are far from trolling, have found themselves in trouble over it.

Naturally, this has also led to censorship within the gaming sphere.

Just a few weeks ago, Esports journalist Rod Breslau reported on a fan watching the Overwatch League live, who had been making the okay gesture during an interview, and was told not to make the symbol due to its “association as a white power symbol.”

Almost right away the fan came out and apologized while also explaining that the superfans had been using it all season under its older “gottem” connotation. He then expressed that it wouldn’t happen again.

Some people were quick to denounce the apology, but given the hateful accusations that were being levied their way, I certainly understand why they wanted to move away from it. As a center-right leaning writer myself, I can certainly attest to how tiresome it gets to be called a ‘nazi’. Personally I just laugh at it now, but hate mobs are rough for those unaccustomed to it, and I can’t blame the fan for caving.

A far more egregious form of caving however, happened just this week when it was revealed that Mortal Kombat 11 changed a gesture for Johnny Cage. Originally, he had been making a circle symbol only for it to be changed to a middle finger. When asked online why this was, a developer for the game responded with “Nazis.

Although if I may add, a game designed around predatory micro transactions and heavy grinding meant to wear the player down, maybe the middle finger is more in line with the rest of the experience saying “fuck you” to the player.

Ignoring the role of the media, within just a short period of time, the okay symbol has become vilified even further by two major gaming studios; a trend that is no doubt going to continue. There’s no way to prove this, but it wouldn’t shock me if upcoming game releases have already taken the symbol out of their games, just as a precaution.

For a symbol so rooted in not just gaming, but nerd culture as a whole, that is tragic to see.

As evidenced by the New Zealand shooter, regardless of his intent, there are no doubt people out there that want to use it to sow the seeds of chaos, and hell, prank or not, it probably has been adopted by a small few white supremacists, but in the grand scheme of things, the symbol is by and large used as nothing more than an innocent gesture that represents a whole myriad of things.

Which makes it absolutely shameful that a hobby I so deeply respect is being taken for a fool by a media narrative that is far from truthful. A narrative that will only result in more people making the symbol as those in the know, are well aware that it doesn’t represent what the media pretends it does. Which’ll inevitably just result in more censorship and shenanigans as the two sides battle over its ultimate meaning. 

A battle that can only be summed up by one eloquent turn of phrase: the Streis-hand effect.


Sophia was a former Niche Gamer contributor.

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