Most of the recent press about Draw Something has been bleak. In the two months since Zynga bought the game for a staggering $180 million, it’s gone from 14 million daily users to just over 8 million — the kind of drop that makes tech writers call “bubble.”
But there’s a bright side. They just coined their first meme.
It’s called Ignore Hitler, and in a little over a week, it’s chalked up 9000 devotees on Tumblr and it’s bringing in an average of 50 user submissions a day. (To be fair, we may have had something to do with it.) It works like this: whenever Draw Something gives you an object to draw — a lemon or a brain, for instance — you include a crude likeness of universally reviled German dictator Adolf Hitler. And to make sure the subject of your drawing is clear, you write “Ignore Hitler” as a caption. (There have also been sightings of “Ignore Kim Jong” and “Ignore Jesus,” but somehow, they don’t pack quite the same kick.)
The mastermind of it all is a Scotsman named Michael who swears he’s only doing it to make fun of Hitler. (It was good enough for Chaplin.) The inspiration came from Draw Something’s biggest loophole: if you aren’t inspired, there’s nothing to stop you from writing out the name of the object instead of drawing it. That defeats the whole purpose of the game, but it’s become increasingly common as players scramble for coins. “I think, to be as obnoxious as possible back to those people, Ignore Hitler was, in some way, a retort.” Now instead of just drawing a lemon, you have to draw both a lemon, Hitler and some (frequently degrading) scenario in which they might meet. On the plus side, Michael says, “he’s very easy to draw.”
The result is perfectly suited to meme culture — attention-getting, easy to mimic and darkly absurdist — but as some have pointed out, this kind of memecraft is increasingly rare on the mobile and social corners of the web. The app world is all walled gardens, each meant to be explored in a specific and regimented way. You wouldn’t use apps to make art any more than you’d use Farmville to make a point about sustainable agriculture. The creative twists only pop up once that system breaks down, either because the buzz has worn off or because users are tired of playing by the rules.
Then you’re left with open-ended software and 8 million people trying to amuse themselves in whatever way they can think of. That’s still, for the record, a pretty large number. And as long as users are sharing whatever they come up with, it leaves plenty of room for self-replicating absurdity.
Of course, maybe you’d rather not have Hitler all over your app — especially if you were planning on selling branded advertising at some point — but so far Zynga’s playing it cool. (They declined to comment for this piece.) Even if they decided to crack down on Ignore Hitler, it’s not clear how they would. For the moment, it’s easier to roll with the meme.