Gaming M/Disinformation

One of the things I had hoped to do in the next semester or so is to create a simulation of some kind that let students in my classes see for themselves how information cascades through various kinds of networks.

My idea was to build on top of some simulation/modeling scenarios I had found in order to model/simulate the way information moves into and out of various kinds of networks — and here I mean not only the kinds of networks we once considered to be social groups but also the two distinct networks that now occupy our lives: offline (aka oral, face-to-face) and online networks.

An /r/science subreddit thread collects up a number of games focused on disinformation, collected here for ready reference:

  • Harmony Square is based on “inoculation theory”: that exposing people to a weak “dose” of common techniques used to spread fake news allows them to better identify and disregard misinformation when they encounter it in future (University of Cambridge press release. More on the game can be found in this article in Misinformation Review. (MR is published by the Harvard Kennedy School.)
  • Headliner: NoviNews is an “adventure where you control the news and its impact on society, your friends and career. Different choices lead to unique combinations of endings.” Right now it’s part of Steam’s “Bundle of Consequences,” which includes four other titles where you play the grim reaper, Death & Taxes; a digital voyeur, Do Not Feed the Monkeys; someone interned in a relocation camp, Not Tonight; and a border control agent, Papers Please. (Let the dystopian games begin?!)
  • In Orwell: Keeping an Eye On You, “Big Brother has arrived – and it’s you. Investigate the lives of citizens to find those responsible for a series of terror attacks. Information from the internet, personal communications and private files are all accessible to you.”
  • NewsFeed Defenders is a clearly educational game that puts users in charge of a fictional social media site focused on news and information: “Your mission? Maintain the site, grow traffic, and watch out! You’ll also need to spot fake posts that try to sneak in through hidden ads, viral deception, and false reporting.”
  • In Bad News users “take on the role of fake news-monger. Drop all pretense of ethics and choose a path that builds your persona as an unscrupulous media magnate. But keep an eye on your ‘followers’ and ‘credibility’ meters. Your task is to get as many followers as you can while slowly building up fake credibility as a news site. But watch out: you lose if you tell obvious lies or disappoint your supporters!”
  • Go Viral appears to be the simplest of the lot, billing itself as “a 5-minute game that helps protect you against COVID-19 misinformation. You’ll learn about some of the most common strategies used to spread false and misleading information about the virus. Understanding these tricks allows you to resist them the next time you come across them online.” Interestingly, they link to an article in the Journal of Cognition: Good News about Bad News: Gamified Inoculation Boosts Confidence and Cognitive Immunity Against Fake News.
  • There is also The Westport Independent “a censorship simulator taking place in a post-war country, governed by the recently elected Loyalist Party.As the editor of one of the last independent newspapers in the country, your job is to remove and edit the content of your paper, affecting the people’s opinion of both the rebels and the Loyalist government.”

I plan on exploring these games/simulations over the holiday break, and I hope to post notes on their game play and how well they both achieve the goals they set for themselves and how well I think they capture the nature of information flows on- and offline.