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Blog: Did you know there are many games teaching about Fake News Here are the Top 5

February 22, 2023
By Scott DeJong

Boardgame letter tiles arranged to say Fake News People are making games about fake news but only a few are worth your time and many fall into similar design patterns. | Credit: Joshua Miranda.

From taking on the grueling task of fact-checker, to running a fake news empire, and completely destroying a community’s faith in everything, Fake news games offer a distinct, and albeit, engaging way to talk about misleading content today. 

I spent a good amount of my pandemic lockdown playing fake news games. While some of my peers got into animal crossing or sourdough starters, I loaded up my browser and played what I tentatively refer to as fake news videogames. A fake news videogame focuses on digital issues like misleading content, disinformation, and conspiracy theory. There is no official genre or category for fake news games, but they are typically trying to teach something, are easy to play, and only take a short amount of time. Oh, and they obviously talk about fake news in some capacity.

For the unfamiliar, fake news was initially used in journalism circles to critique false, for profit reporting, but became popularized by Donald Trump as a way to attack modern journalism during his 2016 campaign. Today the term has seeped into ambiguity, wrapped up with all the other buzzwords for misleading or false content online.

This all might seem a bit niche, but there are a surprising number of fake news games out there and I played and analyzed as many as I could find. While other designers and academics might find my larger findings interesting, what the average educator or even interested player should know is which games are worth their time. To save you the countless hours you would spend, let me offer you my top 5 recommendations.

5. Factitious 1, 2, or Pandemic Special?

If there is an old guard of fake news games it’s Factitious. One of the first games produced around fake news, it is one of the few that has sequels and received significant attention. The game is simple and arguably less of a game than a glorified quiz (some might know of this as gamification). All you have to do is determine if a news article is real or fake. Guess right? You get some points. Guess wrong? It will tell you why and you move on.

It might not be glamourous or fun, but it is direct. It uses actual news articles, reminds players to explore the author, news site, and check out the. Factitious is more of a learning resource that teachers can use to help solidify discussions about media literacy, but it won’t come to close to other games you might want to play.

4. Troll Factory

Adding some more graphics and choice into the mix, Troll Factory positions the player as a grunt worker of the fake news empire. In case you weren’t aware, fake news and disinformation is an industry. These are money making businesses earning revenue through clicks on their pages. 

Troll factory makes this business clear where players can watch their network grow, see their increase in followers, and choose what content to share. The game teaches players what information is more likely to garner attention, hoping that it will make them more critical of content they read on their own. The story is direct, simple, and doesn’t give too much choice, but it gets the point across. My only flag for this one, is they use real content which can be graphic or challenging to read for some audiences.

3. BBC Ireporter

Jumping back to the side of the good guys, BBC Ireporter is a polished choice that puts you in the role of a journalist just trying to get the story right. While targeted towards a pre-teens and teens, the game is a mix of mediums with videos, text, and visuals helping players figure out how to best pitch their story. 

Similar to the last two, BBC Ireporter is still a narrative adventure with limited choice and influence on the side of the player, but it does walk players through the difficult decisions modern journalists have in the 24/7 newsroom.

2. Fake it to Make it

Up until now, all of these options are arguably a game but an interactive story. Fake It To Make It, might not be as polished as others on this list, but it sure is a game. Fake It to Make It was published around the same time as Factitious, received less attention, but is by all accounts an actual game. Players run a fake news empire. Starting with a simple website they build, players become a propogandist focused on spreading false content for clicks and revenue. 

While the game takes a bit of time to learn (the tutorial could use some work), it is number one on my list because it doesn’t just tell players what to do and how to think – it lets them figure it out. It shows just how easy and lucrative it is to start a fake news website, without telling you how to think or what to do.

1. Cat Park

We have dog parks, why not cat parks? The narrative premise for Cat Park has you spreading lies within a local community about the dangers of instilling such an outdoor space for felines. Released in late October the game was outside of my initial study, but I just had to play it and glad I did. Similar to Troll Factory and BBC Ireporter you play through a story, however there are other mechanics. You can make your own memes, engage in social media, and talk with different characters around town.

Cat Park sits at the top of my list because it offers various choices and mechanics to players. As a narrative game the story is still somewhat overly directed, but the slight increase in agency really helps. It touches on key issues around fake news and disinformation by having you spread it, and then shows you the difficulty of dealing with it, by asking you to clean up. I still have my qualms with such a heavy focus on narrative games, but if you want to play one of the best educational options out there give it a whirl (it will take you 15 minutes max).

Overall A Shaky Set of Choices

This list might surprise, intrigue, or bore you, but these are some of the best options I could find and are available for discussing fake news today. While they are my recommendations, they are also meant to illuminate one of the issues we have with these types of games. So many design strategies focus on making Harmony Square, BBC Ireporter, Cat Park), or explaining why someone’s guess was wrong (Factitious). These games don’t allow the players to actually “play” with the concepts and issues of fake news, they just tell them. All of these titles could work if there is effective facilitation, but as I’ve written about before, there is a need for game makers and teachers to push the boundaries here. Let’s focus less on the game and more on the play, a fact that many fake news games struggle with. 

Fake News is still a tiny sliver of learning games and focus on one of many issues when we talk about misleading content online today. These games are short to play, so if you have the time give them a shot. Who knows, maybe you’ll learn something along the way or get a laugh from destroying a fake internet community in the process. 

This is just the start of my own quest. I am playing upwards of 100 more games (board and video) broadening from fake news to media literacy more generally. If you are interested I stream my gameplay and analysis of these games. Games are but one solution, but it is important we get them right. Keep playing and keep critical.

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