Many online platforms and educational curricula have taken up the enormous task of combating fake news. A new game, Fake It to Make It, created by an independent developer tackles the problem from a different perspective: players take up the role of a fake news producer to get insider knowledge on how misinformation is created and spread.
Fake It to Make It offers a nuanced look at why and how people create fake news by role-playing from the perspective of a content creator who wants to make money from counterfeit articles. You begin the game by choosing a persona and a financial goal. I chose to strive toward $200 for music equipment. From here, Fake It to Make It unfurls choice after choice you must make in order to create compelling and high drama, yet believable, fake news articles. Players are tasked to choose their domain name and logo, create or buy fake social media profiles, copy articles, and plug them within the appropriate social media groups.
Throughout the game, the user dashboard keeps track of the money each article brings in via the website’s ads, and players can use that data to learn what types of articles generate the most shares and views and which social media groups are appropriate for different articles. Hint: the politically outrageous articles make a lot more money than the feel-good ones. Another hint (actually given in the game): "Fear is a great emotion to encourage people to share and view articles. Anger is another useful emotion to exploit." You’re probably going to feel a little bit creepy and sleezy even though this is just a game. But that’s also what might make it a powerful learning tool. The more disturbed you are by the process of creating fake news, perhaps the more likely you'll be to avoid it, or even find ways to combat it individually.
This game has one obvious, albeit potential, con: in teaching players how fake news distributors make money, Fake It to Make It might provide an impetus for some to start their own fake news sites. The game doesn’t make it seem so difficult to distribute popular misinformation, and pulling in a few hundred dollars each month might be enough for some to abandon the truth. The game’s creator, Amanda Warner, acknowledges this in the game’s about section, yet says the benefits outweigh the risks. Warner hopes that by playing Fake It to Make It, people will be more aware of the issue and skeptical in their own online reading.
Fake It to Make It offers a new technique to increase misinformation awareness and critical thinking: step into the shoes of a fake news creator. Although the game is nuanced and captivating, it leaves you with a slightly icky feeling, like you’ve done something wrong even though it’s just a game. Yet creating this emotional response is the game’s strength; I finished feeling more aware of fake news creation and how I could be more careful in my own reading.Image: via Fake It to Make It