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A Civilization of Polandballs
This section of the paper seeks to investigate one major ally the R/civ community has enlisted to bolster the popularity and engagement of its Battle Royale, the viral internet comics that are generally called “polandballs.” The usage of Polandball comics to represent in-game civilizations and real-world states are founded on the same visions, visions which in many ways reflect Roberto Esposito’s readings of community and fear in Hobbes’ Leviathan.
A previous section of this paper discussed the manner in which the r/civ community enlisted allies so as to create and popularize its AI-only Battle Royale. One of the most powerful of such allies for the online community has been the “Polandball” meme. “Polandball” comics are humorous, intentionally poorly drawn comic strips that depict current or historical nations as small, anthropomorphic balls with the color schemes of their national flags. The comics traditionally revolve around the activity of a character representing the nation of Poland, thus their name, but often also entail representations of other states, such as Germany, Israel, or China, as can be seen in the comic included on this page. The popularity of “Polandball” comics— which have their own reddit.com sub-forum, r/polandball, and an active presence on a variety of 4chan boards— derives at least in part from their ability to easily signify and disseminate national stereotypes. Characters like Poland are presented as unlucky, slow, and poor english speakers. The character of the United Kingdom are represented as posh and refined, sporting a monocle. Almost all of the “Polandball” strips then serve to present these characters in conflicts (either historical, present, or imagined) so as to humorously highlight their exaggerated stereotypes.
The ability to succinctly represent an entire nation-state in a single, recognizable crude drawing made the “Polandball” format has been extremely attractive to r/civ community-members playing the Battle Royale. Representing the various factions of the game as “polandball” characters allows content-creators to easily craft depictions of in-game events that are easily digestible and comprehensible. They also make potentially arcane presentations of in-game activity in AI-only match much more legible for viewers outside of the community, aiding in growing the r/civ and Battle Royale user-base. As the crude map of the Battle Royale done in the style of Polandball that appears above reveals, the comic form is also useful in disseminating and standardizing specific narrative characteristics of Battle Royale factions, regularizing visions of civilizations like the Philippines and Indonesia as ‘turtle’ participants. The creation of and usage of “polandball” comics by the community of Battle Royale players thus serves to aid in the community’s narrative “anti-playing” of the game as well as their efforts to popularize it with non-community members.
On the symbolic level, though, the “polandball” comics can be seen to function in much the same way that the Italian philosopher Roberto Esposito envisions the Hobbesian ‘Leviathan’ functioning. For one, the anthropomorphic characters operate as assemblages of their state’s populations, so that one can imagine each speck of MS-paint in the drawings as a subject body. This symbolic reading is quite clear in the case Battle Royale comics, where there are no embodied subjects to speak of, but it is just as true in the case of general “Polandball strips,” as the stereotypical irregularities presented in each character are meant to mimic the generalized functioning of the assembled individuals. The placement of these “Leviathan”-esque state symbols in direct, and often violent, conflict with their others— either other states or other assemblages of their state— highlights the manner in which the state community embodied by the character can only “survive" and function “by shifting violence onto an enemy that is able to attract it.” The focus on violence the is ever-present in the comics implies that the threat create by the opposite ‘Leviathans’ of the other “Polandballs,” the fear induced by them, is what serves to generate and motivate each character. The “Polandballs” in the comics, and especially in the comics created for the Battle Royale, always live on the brink of death— necessarily armed and wary of their others— and this state appears inherent to their very nature as character-assemblages. Their representations of community are therefore necessarily predicated upon the “gift of death,” in the terms of Esposito, as that is what is inherently promised by the presence in the assemblage. So it is that all the communities of the Battle Royale represented in the comics must necessarily either be destroyed from without or within, as that is the only potential conclusion to the game, and so it is that each “polandball” character must eventually be shot, erased, or run-over in the comic. The only way, both in Esposito’s vision and in the depictions of the Poland-ball to “immunize” oneself from the mortal danger of the community is to break out of the assemblage, to “utterly eradicate” the “relation between men.” Of course, this means painting oneself with a white pen, and disappearing from the assemblage and the strip.