‘Agar.io’: International Politics In A Petri Dish

Agar.io, named after the gelatinous substance used to culture bacteria, is a bit of an odd game. It’s a massively multiplayer game, like World of Warcraft or Wildstar, with experience points and progression and thousands of players all sharing the world simultaneously. But instead of taking place in a sprawling, 3D rendered world with miles of in-game content to explore, Agar.io takes place in a petri dish.

Agar.io is a deceptively simple game. It’s 2D, and your “character” is a colored or patterned circular blob of cell mass. There are just three controls: move, split, and eject mass. The goal is simply to “eat” circles of cell mass that are smaller than you are. Each time you do, you get bigger, and are able to eat bigger circles of cell mass. Agar.io is a world full of dangers; however, just as easily as you swallow up cells smaller than your own, you can be swallowed up by players that have themselves grown large over time.

But that’s where Agar.io’s simplicity breeds complexity; the smaller you are, the faster you are, but the bigger you are the stronger you are. It’s all very obvious and very simple, but when played out with thousands of other players pursuing the same goal that you are, Agar.io can be a fast-paced and brutal game. Just like the real world of microscopic bacteria, Agar.io is all about survival of the fittest.

Agar.io‘s gameplay is reminiscent of the first few levels of the much-hyped Spore released in 2008, just without the graphical bells and whistles.

Agar.io was released just this year, after a student posted it on 4chan as a browser-based game. It caught on fast. Agar.io found itself on Steam Greenlight, and scoring more than ten million users in the first week it was available on iOS and Android. Popular YouTube and Twitch personalities broadcast themselves playing Agar.io, Engadget reports.

But in May, things took a turn for the weird, Kotaku reports. In Turkey, Agar.io became immensely popular, and this happened to coincide with their election season. Turkey, which is currently home to thousands of refugees from Syria and other regions in the Middle East, had been experiencing a vicious and hot-tempered election cycle. Everything became politicized, TV, movies, news, radio, not unlike election season in the U.S. — maybe the next U.S. presidential debate should take place in Agar.io?

Somehow, Agar.io started becoming a platform where Players named their cell blobs after political movements in Turkey and started making alliances with other players against rival political factions also represented in Agar.io.

The political parties themselves even took to social media with screencaps from Agar.io, showing their massive cell blobs devouring the political hopes and dreams of their enemies.

Pictured here is one political party present in Agar.io, representing the Kurdish minority gobbling up the 10 percent they need in order to gain seats in Parliament. That’s a pretty big deal in Turkey, as Kurds have long been an underrepresented minority, dating back to the days of the Ottoman Empire. The purple ball’s name is “us” and the light blue ball is “oppression,” as translated and explained by Reddit Agar.io enthusiast gmschot.

On Agar.io’s European servers, it’s still common to see blobs named after parties, politicians, and even social issues from all over Europe. Agar.io players devour each other, all in the name of their political inclinations.

Agar.io is a strange game, and an even stranger place for international political discourse to take place, but it’s extremely addictive.

Agar.io has grown a lot recently. The Agar.io subreddit has over 19000 subscribers.

Will Agar.io stick around, or will it end up collapsing under its own weight like Flappy Bird?

[Images via Agar.io]