Fake It Till You Make It

The game Fake it Till you Make it is a simulation-style, social impact game created by Amanda Warner. In the beginning of the game, you are presented with four available avatars to choose from. After stating your name, you must choose one of three things to save up for, and later purchase. You can either purchase music equipment ($200), a deposit for your first apartment ($400), or a used car ($1000). After making a selection, you find out that you are to make money by creating a fake news website. The money comes from people clicking and viewing the ads on your page. Your job is to generate enough traffic on your website to reach your money goal. According to the website, this should be easy, because “you aren’t as constrained by facts.” Throughout the game, you are presented with some goals to guide you in the right direction. Goals include making a site, adding articles, getting one of your articles to go viral, and then eventually creating multiple websites. In terms of the articles you are putting on your website, you can either create them or copy them. Every article comes with a believability and a drama rating. They also contain tags that are associated with either the orange or the purple political parties. The player has the option to make articles very dramatic, very serious and believable, or preferably, both. Only when articles have high ratings in both believability and drama can they become viral. The more attention and traffic your article generates, the more you earn.

Amanda Warner created the game so that players “leave with a better understanding of how misinformation is created, spread, and emotionally targeted so that they are more skeptical of information that they encounter in the future.” In today’s world, we spend so much time looking at computer screens. We are constantly bombarded with news and articles, but we don’t know what’s real and what’s not. For us, seeing an article on different forums, or websites gives it a sense of legitimacy or credibility. This trust is misplaced. In the game, you can literally copy fake news from other sites and publish them on your own website. The same fake news, in different forums.

Amanda goes on to say that the game is based on real live events. Particularly the events regarding the Macedonian teenagers who made a profit by spreading fake news regarding the presidential election in 2016. One teenager, Dimitri (did not give permission to use his real name) made over sixty thousand dollars in less than six months. He posted articles on Facebook wanting to make them go viral. According to him, his two most famous headlines read, “JUST IN: Obama Illegally Transferred DOJ Money to Clinton Campaign!” and “BREAKING: Obama Confirms Refusal To Leave White House, He Will Stay In Power!” Upon reading the headline, one can easily point out the fallacies in such headlines, but that is not what matters to people like Dimitri. Seeing such headlines is sure to draw your attention, and make you want to read it. That’s what they want. They want the click-through so that they could make money off the ads.

Although Warner’s goal for the game was to evoke fear or some type of skepticism in its player, and the end of the day, this is an educational game. Upon completion, which in this game, comes in the form of reaching a money goal, the player leaves with a good understanding of how the process works. From using article tags to cater your articles to specific types of people, to using trending topics to make articles go viral, playing the game gave me a better idea on how to make money with the publishing of fake news. Warner stated that this may be an unexpected effect of the game. Instead of making players skeptical on news articles we see, it might have taught, and inspired players to try to make money by playing Fake It Till You Make It in real life.

It is rather interesting how much the internet facilitates the process of publishing on fake news. This is a process that would be near impossible a few decades ago. There are many reasons why. First, spreading that much information to that much people would have been near impossible without spending an insane amount of money. Today, one can simply use WordPress to create an article or a website and then use social media to publish it, both which are basically free. Second, by using the internet and social media, you already have an audience that, if you play your cards right, is willing to listen. Also, because this audience is so broad, and because you can have some sort of anonymity, reputations are more expendable. The last reason deals with legality. Because spreading new would have been so expensive, and inefficient without the internet, not a lot of publishers could do it. The few that did have the resources usually followed the law because they knew that spreading fake news would probably result in a lawsuit.

After playing the game, I was left wondering how I was personally affected by fake news. As someone who spends hours on Facebook, Instagram, and other social media platforms every day, I know that I am exposed to fake news. But how often? How often do people get exposed to fake news? Well, the spread of fake news saw a drastic increase in 2016, due to the presidential election. People started using fake news to bend the truth for political gain. Small groups of people would create hyperbolic articles regarding the election to evoke emotion. A kind of emotion that would drive action. The 2016 election resulted in such a spike of fake news in large part because of how dynamic a character Donald Trump is. When Donald Trump, the person who would go on to become the president of the United States suggests that Obama was not born in the United States, or that Climate change is a hoax, you, as a news reader, become more receptive to truth distortion or hyperbole because with Donald Trump’s character, you simply don’t know what to expect.

Overall, I had a great time playing the game, and I’m now much more skeptical of all the information I encounter.

Cites:

  1. Carson, James. “What is fake news? Its origins and how it grew in 2016.” The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, 08 Feb. 2017. Web. 09 May 2017.
  2. Smith, Alexander, and Vladimir Banic. “Fake News: How a Partying Macedonian Teen Earns Thousands Publishing Lies.” NBCNews.com. NBCUniversal News Group, 09 Dec. 2016. Web. 09 May 2017.
  3. Warner, Amanda. “Fake It Till You Make It .” Amanda Warner. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 May 2017.
  4. Silverman, Craig. “Fake News Expert On How False Stories Spread And Why People Believe Them.” NPR. NPR, 14 Dec. 2016. Web. 09 May 2017.
  5. Akpan, Nsikan. “The very real consequences of fake news stories and why your brain can’t ignore them.” PBS. Public Broadcasting Service, 5 Dec. 2016. Web. 09 May 2017.

 

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