What is the gulag? Meaning of Call of Duty Warzone meme and why is it the latest social media trend

The endlessly fun Call of Duty: Warzone has proven hugely popular with gamers blending the battle royale genre championed by Fortnite with the tried and tested gameplay of Infinity Ward

Wednesday, 13th May 2020, 11:15 am
Updated Wednesday, 22nd July 2020, 3:53 pm
The gulag is a key part of Call of Duty: Warzone's battle royale game mode (Activision)

Months after its release the game has also bred one of the internet’s fastest growing memes, with social media users citing one of the game’s most distinctive features: the gulag.

What is the gulag meme?

In the free-to-play game’s battle royale mode players are given a shot at redemption when their character is killed in combat.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Rather than being booted from the game, they are sent to the gulag (a Russian prison) where they take on another fallen player in one-to-one combat.

The winner of this duel is sent back into the game, while the loser is booted from the game.

The winner-takes-all, frenzied and slightly bizarre nature of the game mechanism paired with the wild – and unashamedly childish - imaginations of gamers has spawned a constantly expanding library of memes.

Given that the joke is only understood by players of the game, it has also become a huge in-joke with the partners of players often the ones left scratching their heads asking “what is the gulag?”

What are some examples of the gulag meme?

Early forms of the gulag meme featured a cheery Josef Stalin alongside a caption saying “Go to the gulag”. The insult go to the gulag then manifested into an insult for gamers and social media users to throw at friends – or indeed enemies – who uploaded opinions or posts that they disagreed with.

More recently gamers privy to the gulag meme have been uploading screenshots of conversations with their (often furious) other halfs compelling them to reveal “what is a gulag”.

Amalagamations of the gulag meme with clips of boxing promoter Eddie Hearn have also become inexplicably popular.

The previously mentioned forms of the meme are just a small fraction of the incarnations which are taking over social media users’ timelines.

What is a Soviet gulag?

The inspiration for the game mode is dark.

Gulags were unimaginably bleak Soviet-era Russian prison camps which peaked under the reign of notorious dictator Josef Stalin.

The camps were typically in horrific condition and house a spectrum of prisoners from petty criminals to political prisoners.