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Ugandan Knuckles – how an innocent meme broke the VRChat by making it go viral (7 min read)

Ugandan Knuckles, VRChat – an in-game meme that involved using Knuckles parody avatar (one of Sonic’s characters), forming tribes on VRChat, and speaking in broken Ugandan dialect to troll other players. It took online lobbies in just two weeks, going from funny, to unbearable, to racist.

?Strategy & Tools

Ugandan Knuckles History Timeline

  • Aug 7, 2016 – VirtuallyVain, a streamer, uploads a video impersonating African drug lord in Call of Duty: Black Ops. It gathered over 10M views in 2 years. One of the most famous lines he said to other players was ‘Follow me, I know the way’ with African accent.
  • Feb 1, 2017 – VRChat is officially released on Steam
  • Feb 20, 2017 – YouTuber named GregZilla published a review of 2013 Sonic Lost World game, with a parody of Knuckles character. That immediately turned into a meme Knuckles Sings.
  • Sep 16, 2017 – The parody is turned into a 3D model and published on DeviantArt
  • Dec 22, 2017 – Stalhsby uploads a video „You Do Not Know the Way” in which VRChat players using the Knuckles parody model as avatar troll other players. The phrase „Do You Know The Wey” comes from a 2010 Ugandan movie „Who Killed Captain Alex?”
  • Dec 23, 2017 – SoyerCake, another Youtuber publishes another VRChat video of multiple players using Ugandan Knuckles avatars. It gets over 1M views.
  • Dec 28, 2017 – TanksBlast uploads VRChat video called „Ugandan Knuckles Tribe”
  • Jan 2, 2018 – Syrmor uploads another „Do You Know the Way” video that gets over 199,000 views in 48 hours. It has over 29M views 3 years later.
  • Jan 3, 2018 – the Syrmor’s video is published on Reddit (r/youtubehauku). It gets over 400 points and 93% upvotes.
  • Jan 5, 2018 – Ebaumsworld publishes an article about the meme
  • Jan 10, 2018 – VRChat team publishes an open letter to players to tackle the problem of online harassment, and breaking the experience for others.
  • Jan 22, 2018 – an animation called „Da wae” is released by AnimeToons on YouTube. It reached over 23M views.
  • Jan 27 , 2018 – after the Ugandan Knuckles become more and more popular, Razer, a gaming hardware manufacturer, uploads a tweet „Razer is de wey”. It hit them back, as the meme is at this point considered racist.
  • Feb 2018 – the meme already lost its fuel. By April it was gone.
  • Dec 16, 2018 – a reddit user posted a picture of dam with Ugandan Knuckles to bring them back in January. The joke about coming revival has circulated on Reddit, getting over 12,000 points.

Who started the Ugandan Knuckles meme?

GregZilla, a YouTuber who recorded a review for the “Sonic Lost World” game, put a parody of Knuckles at some point of the video, but it was the Internet community that turned it into a full-blown meme later on.

Organic growth

Ugandan Knuckles meme grew fast in a 100% organic manner. It was created within an online community and spread with the help of YouTubers that posted funny videos – but all the growth was possible without any penny spent.

How did Ugandan Knuckles become so popular – YouTubers

Ugandan Knuckles viral meme on VRChat was posted to YouTube by accounts that already had a following. This allowed them to get the first thousands of views, which for YouTube’s algorithm are a factor to promote the video organically to others. More video views in the first 24 hours help you land in the recommended section.

All the videos with Ugandan Knuckles viral meme were pushed organically to a broader audience this way.

Timing

The meme originated on December 23, which is the day before Christmas Eve. That’s a time when many people are already home, preparing for Christmas but also have more free time – for playing, too. 

The first Ugandan Knuckles tribe originated in a VRChat lobby at a time when many people looked for online interaction. This turned out to be one of the ways. Or should I say – de waes.

Trend riding

VRChat’s popularity picked up just before the Ugandan Knuckles gained popularity – close to Christmas. This trend could have an influence on Uganda Knuckles meme spreading, but that works both ways – the peak interest in the platform could’ve been influenced by the knuckles swarming lobbies.

Also, the knuckles could’ve been the reason why many people actually lost interest in VRChat, but the history shows, after this enormous boost, VRChat kept growing steadily over the years, since its first release in 2017.

Online Communities

A large portion of the communications around Ugandan Knuckles happened on Reddit, on the active meme and gaming boards. That gave life to later videos and the general movement that everyone hated later on.

Where did Ugandan Knuckles come from?

There is no simple answer to that: GregZilla comes from the USA, but the Ugandan Knuckles viral meme was inspired by an Ugandan movie – “Who Killed Captain Alex.” That's where the “I kno de wae” catchphrase came from.

Controversy

The Ugandan Knuckles viral meme was rather controversial. Mocking Ugandan accent and clicking noises could seem racist to some but many players took it further, using knuckles avatars with watermelon or linking it with Ebola virus, which is by all means racist.

Another aspect was ruining the experience for other players. At the peak, clones of Ugandan Knuckles swarmed lobbies and harassed other players so often that people started to ban anyone wearing that avatar.

Why did Ugandan Knuckles viral meme become popular?

There are a few reason why something so unusual gained so much attention:

  • Sonic the Hedgehog is a popular brand and the character of Knuckles is a part of it,
  • spreading the meme on YouTube greatly boosted the increase in virality of the Ugandan Knuckles meme,
  • it was somehow strange and funny, and things like that sell pretty well on the Internet,
  • it had some racist potential, and a significant part of the Internet users find pleasure in interacting with such themes (although it's morally ambiguous),
  • it had good timing as a social game VRChat was rising then (it gave more occasions for social interactions).

?Psychology

Bandwagon Effect

People tend to do something just because everyone else seems to be doing it. There were more and more videos with Ugandan Knuckles viral meme posted, and others wantedq to be part of the activity.

In-group bias

People believe in their group’s superiority. While going into the Ugandan Knuckles characters, they acted as a tribe that had fun at the cost of other players.

Negative social proof

Sometimes social proof works the opposite. At first, Ugandan Knuckles viral meme was fun, but it died as people started to call it racist. Even though the comeback was planned for 2019, that didn’t happen, really.

Endowment effect

People value something more if they feel it belongs to them. The meme was created by a community but it also required the community to collaborate and act in a certain way – that made the meme more ‘theirs’. They played an active role in it.

?Window of Opportunity

Sparking an idea in community can bring positive results, which is why the meme got so popular, so fast. As soon as the commitment was lost – with the negative comments of them being racist –  the initiative died as fast as it rose to become famous for the short period.

If you want to go viral, you can start with your community to give it a spark, and then fuel the fire by riding what’s trending. That tactic, although organic, worked for Ugandan Knuckles and it seems that it might work in other cases. Making something, an idea, that others see as worth spreading – that’s a completely different topic.

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