This week I evaluated two games that show people how misinformation is spread and created. Read along, and follow my gameplay through the slides to learn more about these games and my experience as I navigated through my first time playing them.
The first game I played is called Bad News. In this game, you take on the role of an individual who actively seeks to disperse misinformation to gain a following and credibility among people. At first, I didn’t understand how to play the game fully and wanted to make the right moral decisions based on the things we had been learning in my Misinformation and Society class that I am taking this Fall at ASU. However, the game quickly lures you back to achieve the purpose of the game which is to deceive and obtain all the levels to become a fake news tycoon.
The first level to complete is Impersonation. In my case, I choose to impersonate the television channel Nickelodeon, which to me was the lesser of the evil options that it gave me in my opinion. This takes the credibility of a popular and known name and uses it to your advantage. I should also mention that I chose to create a fake news blog called Honest Truth Online which you will see the game refers to me in the slides. After I mastered this technique it was onto Emotion.
As I mentioned before it was hard in the beginning because everything in me was wanting to do the moral thing and the opposite of what it was recommending me to do, but in order to move on in the game you really have to tap into what is going through the minds of people who purposefully create misinformation and unfortunately I do have to say, it gets easier as you play on. For this level, I chose to Talk about GMO Science and I chose to exploit the emotions of others by pretending to be a GMO victim’s family who had died from GMOs by posting a sad meme, (I know, terrible.) It worked. I was able to rally followers and garner attention from major news organizations to further the cause by inciting fear in people. As you can see my credibility and follower count get higher and higher as the game progresses.
Up next, was Polarization and all I had to do was choose to get people either worked up over something fake or something real. As I was getting better idea of how to play the game, I chose something real because it would boost my credibility more than if I chose something fake and people could perhaps see through my claims. So I picked a chemical spill story tweeted by a girl with 31 followers. Unfortunately, it took a bit more work to spread this information because of her small follower count, which I realized after the fact that I should have gone for a Twitter account with more followers, but nevertheless, it worked. All I had to do was program a couple of thousand Twitter bots to boost our tweets and we were trending. It was shocking how easy that was to amplify something so small and create a huge reaction among people. It really puts into perspective how dangerous Twitter bots are in terms of how we get our news and how it is swayed to push us to think one way instead of another.
The Conspiracy level was next and foolishly I thought I could get away with spreading a stupid headline like, “Alien Dinosaurs Helped Build the Pyramids,” but it looked like I wasn’t going to get anyone to believe me based on that theory because my followers were not buying it. Instead, I chose another realistic story and it hit pretty close to home because it was a little too realistic in because it was really how some people thought in regards to the COVID-19 pandemic. By targetting the World Health Organization I was stepping into the shoes of the people I loathed the most in the midst of the pandemic and it wasn’t a comfortable position at all. As I played on I realized that so many of the followers I were gaining were people just trying to grasp onto something that they believed the mainstream media was hiding from them and that I was somehow giving them stories and information that they wouldn’t, but it just wasn’t true at all and it made me realize that all these people want is some kind of shock factor. They want to believe in something outlandish because they really just don’t want to trust the major news organizations and it’s unfortunate that so many people believe that.
The second to last level to complete was discrediting a fact checker and I was faced with the option to deny all allegations or attack them personally. I knew that denying all allegations wasn’t going to get me anywhere with my followers and that the only way to discredit them was attacking them personally, and let me tell you, none of this felt right, but I had to get into the head of this person I was pretending to be. So, I chose to claim that the fact-checking organization had abused its employees because it was something that couldn’t be easily brushed off by the company and it worked. I had gained the Discrediting badge and there was only one level left to complete.
This last one was Trolling and my choice was to troll a major airline in regards to a recent crash. This level made me use several techniques I had learned along the way including Emotion and Impersonation. Something that dawned on me when I chose this option was that not only would I be trolling the airline, but I would be causing so much unneeded hurt and pain to the families of the victims. Of course, this is all a hypothetical scenario, but still, it made me realize the people that spread this type of misinformation by trolling really have no remorse for the actual people they are hurting with their actions. With that being said, I had to keep my head in the game. As my followers were continuing to spread this story I had fabricated, the game pushed me further to impersonate a victim and I chose to impersonate a victim’s sister which pushed the story into the mainstream, then deliver the final blow by using doctored images as evidence which will make all the allegations look legit. It worked, and I got the aviation chairman to resign. This just goes to show that all misinformation that gets spread on the internet can have some real-life implications all from fake and made-up stories that people share online.
This game was not easy by any means. I really had to do away with all the right things I had learned to do to combat misinformation and immerse myself into the world of a misinformation spreader, this wasn’t comfortable at all. However, it did teach me a lot about why and how these people do it on a personal level that I wasn’t ready for. It also showed me the kinds of people who consume misinformation are in and their ability to readily believe information that comes their way because of their distrust in other established news organizations. Based on all of that I think the game does a great job in teaching players about misinformation. On the other hand, it can also be counter-productive because it does such a good job that anyone interested in becoming a misinformation tycoon, would now have the tools to do so after playing this game and that can be dangerous.
The next game I chose to analyze was Facticious, and this game I had been introduced to previously in a different communication class, but it was more a whole class game that the professor asked us to weigh in on and see if as a class we could come up with the right answer. So, it was nice this time around to try it out by myself based on my own knowledge. The game is split up into different levels from easy, medium to hard. In each round of the game, you are presented with news articles that are either fake or real news and it is up to you to decide which is which. Additionally, it lets you know the source of the article which gives you a hint as to whether it’s real or fake. To ease myself in, I chose to start with the easy round and passed with flying colors since I mostly relied on the sources I recognized and didn’t recognize and the believability of the articles themselves. I won’t show all the answers in my slides because I want people to play the game and test it out for themselves.
After the easy level, I decided to really test my skills and try one of the harder levels. I could tell I would struggle with this one a bit more because there were sources that I didn’t recognize from other parts of the world and I couldn’t tell if they were credible news sources or not, so I had to really trust my instincts with this one. The first one I got wrong was an article by The Hill which I had no idea was a reliable source or not. Based on the article, it mentions a New York Times report which could have been real and information from Russian officials, which didn’t exactly strike me as credible news, so I selected fake and I was incorrect. After reading that it was a right-leaning news organization that supports Donald Trump, I wasn’t surprised that I got it wrong since that is certainly not the type of news I typically consume. But it certainly sharpened my eye and focused my attention to recognize sources and news articles that I might not be familiar with or have a bias against, and to see them as potential real news articles as well.
This level certainly tested me and I am embarrassed to say I barely passed, but if anything, it taught me that I shouldn’t just be looking for news articles from organizations I already know and maybe look to others that aren’t so easily known too that have credible articles too. I liked this game because while it wasn’t as in-depth as Bad News, it kept you on your toes and kept you wanting to play by testing your knowledge of fact-checking and source-identifying which I enjoyed. This would be a good one to play with family and friends to test each other’s skills in a lighthearted manner as opposed to Bad News with a more darker theme.
I enjoyed playing these games and would definitely recommend them as a tool to educate people on misinformation. I think it gives people another avenue to explore misinformation instead of reading articles about it and possibly boring themselves, this option lets people get a broader look at misinformation through interactive activities to truly understand the basis of what it is for people that are new to the subject. In this article by Stanford News, they shed light on how more games should be used as educational tools in learning settings because it fosters engagement and interaction. They teach us not “why” we do things, but “how.” James Gee, a professor of literacy studies at Arizona State University, who also holds degrees in philosophy and linguistics from Stanford, stated, “knowledge is not the outcome we want; we want students to learn how to make choices.” Making the choice to share or listen to a news article is a huge decision, and these misinformation games help people to make the right choice every time.