Fake It to Make It

“Fake It to Make It”, created by Amanda Warner, is an educational game that simulates the impact of fake news.  The player creates a hypothetical news outlet, copies or writes articles from a pre-determined set of options, and plants the articles in various social media groups.  The articles the player can copy come with a believability rating, a drama rating, and tags associating them with the orange political party, the purple party, or neutral.  The articles generate income based on their popularity and the emotional response they illicit.  The player is faced with goals such as “plant an article that earns more than ten dollars”, “make an article that triggers fear”, or “write an article with a drama value of more than 20”. The more interest an article generates, the more money it earns.  The player attempts to reach a profit goal, enough to either buy music equipment, place a deposit for an apartment, or buy a used car. 

The game illustrates how many fake new article are literally copied from other fake news cites for their sensationalism.  Articles that appear in multiple places gain a false sense of legitimacy, simply because it exists in multiple places does not mean the information is correct.  If they aren’t directly plagiarized, they often cite other fake news sources, falsely reference reputable sources, fabricate “relevant” statistics, or use a convincing photo from a different event as evidence. For example, according to The Guardian, an article from alternativemediasyndicate.com reported that police at the Standing Rock protests burned down the camps of indigenous people fighting the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota. However, the image used was from “a 2007 HBO film”, indicating that the article was fake.  However, the misuse of the image didn’t stop Facebook users from sharing the article over 200,000 times (The Guardian).  This particular incident highlights how articles gain momentum. With each share the new reaches a new audience, seemingly gaining reputability along the way.

In the context of the game, politically charged articles targeted towards the orange party generated a greater amount of interest than articles of the same nature targeted towards purple party members.  Therefore, the game illustrates how a certain type of reader—politically interested, gullible, and far to one side of the political spectrum—tends to be more active in the distribution of sensational media.  The Guardian reports that “pro-Trump false stories were much more widespread than pro-Clinton ones. Some of the most high-profile examples, such as the conspiracy theory that Clinton was tied to a child sex ring, fed rightwing narratives.” (The Guardian) However, the author notes that there has been an uptick in the popularity of fake news targeted towards more liberal audiences (The Guardian). Levin says, “On the left, there are numerous styles of misinformation that appear to be gaining traction. In addition to blatantly fabricated stories, there have been increasing concerns about articles featuring deceitful and hyperbolic headlines, viral memes that have a very tenuous connection to the truth and poorly sourced articles that use inaccurate visuals to draw readers.” This shift indicates that the subject of fake news may have little to do with the content itself, but features whatever will garner the most interest from internet users.  The content simply shifts with public interest.

Fake news content in the United States is also frequently coming from overseas. Buzzfeed news reports that teenagers in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia have created over one hundred pro-trump websites featuring entirely plagiarized or falsified content with titles like “Your Prayers Have Been Anwered”, or “This is the news of the millennium!” (Buzzfeed).  People in their teens to early twneties, particularly in the Macedonian town on Veles, are planting content designed to generate social media attention, and watching as “money [begins] trickling into [a] Google AdSense account” (Buzzfeed).  To directly quote Buzzfeed, The young Macedonians who run these sites say they don’t care about Donald Trump. They are responding to straightforward economic incentives: As Facebook regularly reveals in earnings reports, a US Facebook user is worth about four times a user outside the US. The fraction-of-a-penny-per-click of US display advertising — a declining market for American publishers — goes a long way in Veles.” (Buzzfeed).  Essentially, people who don’t care about the content they release are swaying American media discussions and controlling which topics people are most frequently exposed to.  Facebook is the most effective platform, and is based on a system of momentum.  Posts that generate public interest will appear more prominently, which gives them the opportunity to generate even more interest in a sort of positive feedback loop.  Content that is less sensational—and likely more reliable—will never have the opportunity to surpass the fake news.  This system, riddled with false content from people who chose it specifically for its capability to generate fear, is dangerous at best.  Not only does it reaffirm people’s preexisting biases, it can lead to mass hysteria and widespread paranoia.  In short, the small economic gain of teenagers far away is sweeping the American media.

Also, in the information section the game’s creator discusses the ethics of “Fake It to Make It”.  Hypothetically, the game could teach people how to create fake news. It could also inspire people to create fake news cites, or make people aware that they could make money this way.  Warner explains that “the process or creating fake news is already well documented online…However, I acknowledge that there is a difference between information and inspiration. It’s possible that this game could inspire someone to make fake news, but I’m willing to take the risk, because I think the potential for positive change in players is worth it”.  Basically, if someone wants to create fake news the resources are already out there.  The academic value of “Fake It to Make It” outweighs the potential danger of inspiring more copycat news sources. 

Basically, click bait is everywhere.  Internet users can protect themselves from falling into the trap of fake news by double checking their sources with sites like Snopes, Politifact, and FactCheck.org (Warner).  Also, it’s advisable to cross reference information.  If news is legitimate, readers should be able to find the same information in multiple reputable sources online. 

Works Cited

Alexander, Craig Silverman Lawrence. “How Teens In The Balkans Are Duping Trump Supporters With Fake News.” BuzzFeed. Buzzfeed News, 4 Nov. 2016. Web. 08 May 2017.

Warner 2017, Fake It To Make It, video game, PC games, Amanda Warner.

Levin, Sam. “Fake News for Liberals: Misinformation Starts to Lean Left under Trump.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 06 Feb. 2017. Web. 08 May 2017.

Analysis of Choice: Texas

Choice: Texas is an interactive, educational game depicting the healthcare system in Texas, specifically in terms of reproductive health.  The game outlines five possible real-life scenarios all describing women who experience either unwanted or high-risk pregnancies.  For example, Latrice is a lawyer in a stable relationship who does not feel the timing is right to have a child.  Leah is a survivor of sexual assault, who become pregnant as a result of the attack.  Jess is a married woman who’s child would suffer serious birth defects, if not delivered stillborn.  Even in the best case scenario, the delivery may cause harm to Jess.  Alex is a high school student who struggles to choose between adoption and abortion, but does not receive any support from her family or boyfriend in any case.  Maria has a husband and two kids already, but cannot afford another child.  In each case, the game’s narrative outlines the obstacles women face in the state of Texas in finding reproductive healthcare.  Past the legal barriers, the narratives also show the social stigma the women must combat in exercising their reproductive rights. 

The format of the game allows the player to make their own choices, like choosing a character and making decisions out of the provided options.  For example, the player must make decisions such as telling the parents about the pregnancy, missing school or work for doctor’s appointments, proceeding with the abortion, or exploring the option of adoption.  These choices allow the player to be an active participant in an educational gaming experience, and also may reflect the player’s personal biases.  People who are pro-choice may be more inclined to choose the “proceed with abortion” option more readily than someone who is pro-life.  Therefore the outcomes of the game may differ regionally in terms of political climate or prevailing ideas about gender and reproductive rights.  The game also offers narrative options that are ethically challenging.  For example, Jess’s child would undoubtedly be born with birth defects, if the child survives at all.  Leah became pregnant as a result of a sexual assault.  These situations illustrate how complex the issue or abortion actually is, and what hoops women are forced to jump through in exploring their options in the face of an unwanted or complicated pregnancy.   

Many states require multiple a consultation before the actual abortion appointment, meaning women would have to miss multiple days of work or school.  In order to keep their medical situation private and avoid social pressure from the people around them, they would have to come up with a false reason for being absent.  As mentioned in the game, the state requires a woman to undergo and ultrasound—effectively forcing her to see her baby—before undergoing the procedure.  The ultrasound is only possible after a certain number of weeks, and abortions can only be performed a particular number of weeks into a pregnancy.  This leaves a small window in which a woman can have the procedure done without resorting to an abortion that is not done through legal channels and possibly unsafe.  She must also undergo a lecture about her “options”, even if she knows with certainty that the procedure is what she wants.

The game not only depicts the difficulties a woman faces in getting an abortion, but it also outlines the options a woman has in the case that she experiences an unwanted pregnancy.  The game mentions hotlines women can call for support, planned parenthood, medical vs. surgical abortions, judicial bypass (for minors who do not wish to obtain parental permission to have the procedure done), and the Lilith fund (for women who cannot afford the monetary cost of the procedure). The “resources” provides hyperlinks to relevant resources for women.  Also, the game focuses on a state with a notoriously conservative political climate.  While many more liberal states have less restrictive policies on abortion, much of the U.S. still has incredible stringent restrictions on the procedure.  Overall, the game serves as an educational tool for both women who face challenges in exercising their reproductive rights, and people who can control the restrictions on those rights—the voters.

Choice: Texas aims to educate players about the realities of the Texas reproductive healthcare system.  The game works to spread information about women’s reproductive healthcare options, and also allows people to confront their personal biases—for example, if they repeatedly choose adoption over abortion or not go through with the procedure.  Factors such as geography, socioeconomic demographic, or religious affiliation could sway the ways people react to the hypothetical scenarios presented by the game.  Through the narrative structure and variety in the women’s situation, the game effectively illustrates the complicated and deeply personal nature of the issue itself.  It also serves to educate people—those who vote on the issues of women’s reproductive rights—about the array of circumstances surrounding abortions and the adversity women face in obtaining them.  In spreading awareness, Choice: Texas has the capability to push along a necessary change in the reproductive healthcare system many women are subjected to.

Mortal Kombat

Mortal Kombat (Midway 1992) is a fantasy-themed fighting game franchise originally developed in 1992.  In the early 1990’s, the Street Fighter (Capcom 1987) franchise was dominating the market.  It’s deep storyline, bright color scheme, and intricate fight sequences were a stark contrast from the games that were already in arcades, starting the transition into a whole new genre of games. In 1992, developers Ed Boon and John Tobias (along with the rest of their team) created Mortal Kombat (Midway 1992) as a both competitor to Street Fighter (Capcom 1987) and a huge new franchise. The franchise, as of the year 2000, had generated $5 billion in revenue, making it “one of the highest-grossing media franchises of all time”1. The first games in the series were known for their “realistic digitized sprites (which differentiated it from its contemporaries’ hand-drawn sprites) and an extensive use of palette swapping to create new characters”.1 The first game, which serves as the focus of this post, was played in an arcade with a joystick and several buttons, including high punch, low punch, high kick, low kick, and block. Most of the characters were only differentiated by their fighting styles and nothing else. Some styles were based on actual martial arts while others were completely made-up1.  Additionally, the creators of Mortal Kombat (Midway 1992)and Street Fighter (Capcom 1987), respectively, spent the majority of the early 90’s locked in a rivalry. Much was said by both parties, including claims that MK was “cartoonish” in comparison to SF.  SF’s creators also vehemently stated that there would be no crossover between the franchises1.

The series takes place in a fictional universe comprised of eighteen “surviving realms”, which were all created by the Elder Gods2.   The first game in the franchise takes place in Earthrealm, “where seven different warriors with their own reasons for entering participated in the tournament with the eventual prize being the continued freedom of their realm, threatened with a takeover by Outworld. Among the established warriors were Liu Kang, Johnny Cage and Sonya Blade. With the help of the thunder god Raiden, the Earthrealm warriors were victorious and Liu Kang became the new champion of Mortal Kombat2. John Tobias, one of the franchise’s creators, stated that his inspiration for the game came largely from Chinese Mythology and stories about the Shaolin Monks1

The giant, sweeping popularity of the Mortal Kombat (Midway 1992) games, particularly among teenage audiences, led to some concern from both parents and legislators.  The gory, somewhat violent quality and fighting theme of the game (notably it’s use of Fatalities, or finishing moves) led to the fear that MK was corrupting young minds, and would eventually lead to a spike in violent behavior among youth. People felt that the game needed to be regulated. This reaction eventually led to the creation of the ESRB, which would become effective in 1994.  Sega also enacted it’s own rating system which spanned from GA (General audiences) to MA-17 (Mature audiences only)2.  After all the issues surrounding the game’s content, it ultimately was awarded an MA-13 rating.  So, despite the controversy, Mortal Kombat (Midway 1992) wasn’t even given the harshest rating.

Works Cited

1“Mortal Kombat.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 25 Feb. 2017. Web. 27 Feb. 2017.

2Jasper, Gavin. “The Mortal Kombat Timeline: The Krazy Story Explained.” Den of Geek. N.p., 21 Aug. 2015. Web. 27 Feb. 2017.