Fake It To Make It (Ryan Najjar)

Fake it to Make It (Warner, 2017) is an interactive simulation game developed and designed by Amanda Warner, a creator of a wide range of online educational tools developed with the World Health Organization, The Union (an organization fighting tuberculosis and lung disease), Transparency International Norway, ACCION International, and more (Warner). This game is yet another addition to the wide range of educational tools and simulations she has worked on in the past, and this one focuses on the ideas and motivations behind fake news and it’s creators.

In the game, you have the choice between four characters, the main difference between which seems to be the physical appearance, since you can customize the name, and there isn’t really specific backstories associated with each person. When selecting the character before the beginning of the journey, one also has the option to pick a financial goal; these range from music equipment, to an apartment deposit, to a used car. Again, these are the same for all four of the characters. While it just makes sense for this game to have a sort of motivator to serve as a goal, so people don’t get uninterested while playing, I believe that the specific motivators were created specifically to appeal to those who might be unempathetic to creators of fake news; “They’re humans with needs, just like you,” this inclusion implies, “There’s a reason they’re doing this.”

From there, the game begins. From the outset, it lets you know that you’ll be targeting the US with your news sites, since “…views and clicks from people in this country are paid at a higher rate than in other countries,” hinting the user at the fact that the United States has a specific issue with this for a reason. It also lets you know that you’ll be making fake news because it “…takes less time to create, and it often spreads better than real news…” This seems to serve the same purpose as the previous statement, and also serves as a rationale for the character you are playing (they need money, after all)! From there, you enter the actual interface of the game, and are prompted to create your first site, which only needs to have a credibility rating of 30/100, a rating that can be achieved with a custom domain and an inexpensive site theme. You also have to select a form of monetization, whether it be ads, collecting user information, or malware, but ads are the only available option in the beginning. From there, you are told to copy articles from other sites, and select them based on general topics like immigration, crime, religion, politics, animals, and the like. Available articles are also rated based on their believability and drama, with scores being out of 20. From there, you are told to buy a social media profile with a certain amount of clout, and get them to share the articles into social media groups that indicate an interest in the article’s topics. The game prompts you to try an earn certain amounts of shares and revenue first, but then instructs you to invoke happiness with a certain article.

Through these promptings, the game (and Warner in turn) uses what Bogost refers to as procedural rhetoric to offer it’s opinions and perceptions of fake news (Bogost). In using these procedures, and through it’s use of specific trackers of time, exposure, and finances, the game also creates an immersive simulation, enforcing the narrative in turn.

After sharing the happy article, the player is informed that happy articles don’t get people riled up, and are therefore less popular; saying this, it then tells you to exploit fear, which is quickly found to be an easy way for an article to become widespread. Later on, you are told to write your own articles, with high ratings of drama and believability; you are told to accomplish this first by picking a general base topic (for example, “unverified report implicates the senate leader in sex scandal.”) Then by specifying it with different tropes that are engineered to invoke credibility and drama (things like quoting out-of-context information and asking readers to help expose the truth, respectively), and by giving it a title, one can create an article that is engineered to go viral and earn money. The game even indicates when a famous person shares your articles, and, if writing about immigration or specific groups of people, it even tells you when hate crimes against the people you wrote about increase in the United States.

The significance of the socio-cultural issue this game tackles cannot be ignored. Politifact, a prominent fact-checking site that worked overtime during the 2016 election, named the phenomenon it’s “Lie of the Year,” and harped on the prevalence of stories that made claims of pizza shop sex rings, implementation of Sharia law in the US, and mass racist chants at Donald Trump rallies (Politifact). It is these types of stories, and their prevalence, that led to an increased wave of confusion about the truth, with even 23% of Americans in one study saying they shared a fake news story, voluntarily or otherwise (Pew Research Center). Our current aforementioned president also routinely invoked the concept, although he tended to target it at CNN, and other news organizations that produced stories ill-fitting the Trump narrative (PoliticusUSA). However, even though it dominated a significant part of the political conversation in the previous year, a major study from Stanford University showed that it may have not necessarily swayed the election, although it definitely had a semi-significant footing through it’s prevalence in increasingly prevalent social media sites (Stanford).

Overall, I believe that the immersive nature of the game allowed it to address the issue in a fairly effective manner. By presenting the player with various tropes of fake news, it allows the player to understand patterns in these types of stories, and prepares them to encounter false information on social media in the future. Furthermore, placing the player in the perspective of the fake news creator also serves the purpose of inducing empathy for the creators of these works, although it could have done this in a more effective manner. For instance, all of the characters had the same exact three goals, which depersonalizes the experience quite a bit. Also, the fact they had no set name, or any identity beyond a face, enforced this depersonalization. This made me, and perhaps some others, feel slightly disconnected from the experience of this character. This is a minor problem, however, and the game as a whole functions smoothly, and serves its purpose quite well.

 

Works Cited:

Barthel, Michael, Amy Mitchell, and Jesse Holcomb. “Many Americans Believe Fake News Is Sowing Confusion.” Pew Research Center’s Journalism Project. The Pew Charitable Trusts, 15 Dec. 2016. Web. 09 May 2017.

Bogost, Ian. Persuasive Games. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2010. Print.

Crawford, Krysten. “Stanford Study Examines Fake News and the 2016 Presidential Election.” Stanford News. Stanford University, 19 Jan. 2017. Web. 09 May 2017.

Haraldsson, Hrafnkell. “Trump Reacts to Terrible Poll Results by Calling CNN ‘Fake News’.” Politicus USA. Politicus USA, 20 Mar. 2017. Web. 09 May 2017.

Holan, Angie Drobnic. “PolitiFact’s 2016 Lie of the Year: Fake News.” PolitiFact. Tampa Bay Times, 13 Dec. 2016. Web. 09 May 2017.

Warner, Amanda. “Portfolio.” Amanda Warner. Amanda Warner, n.d. Web. 09 May 2017.

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Choice: Texas – Perspectives, Controversy, and Immersion. by Ryan Najjar

For this assignment, I have decided to discuss the text-based choose-your-own-story game, Choice: Texas. Carly Kocurek, a game history scholar and professor, and Allyson Whipple, a writer, poet, and feminist activist (Campbell), developed the game using $10,000 of funding collected from various donations via IndieGoGo (Fussell). In this game, players are able to enter the realities of five different fictional women who are attempting to navigate through the various hurdles presented by the Texas healthcare and government system in an effort to, if the player makes the choice, get an abortion, or otherwise put the child up for adoption, or keep it. The women in this game are from many different walks of life. Latrice is a lawyer with a stable boyfriend, and neither had children in their plans. Leah is a young bartender living at home, and was a victim of rape after a man claimed he could drive her back from work. Alex is a high school track star working to get a scholarship while dealing with an undependable boyfriend. Jess is a woman trying to become a mother, but is faced with her future child’s severe health complications. Lastly, Maria is a Catholic, wife, and mother of three, who is working just to get by and give her kids a decent life. As it might be apparent already, all of these women face very different, yet equally challenging obstacles involving the healthcare system, their peers, their coworkers, and the people that they once believed they could count on for anything (Choice: Texas, 2014). These hurdles aren’t necessarily based on fiction either. In fact, the game was developed using “…extensive research into healthcare access, legal restrictions, geography, and demographics, and is reflective of the real circumstances facing women in the state,” according to the game’s main page (Choice: Texas, 2014). And the research shows; the stories contain extensive detail about everything from the specific information discussed during legally-mandated pre-procedure counseling sessions, to the discussion of the under-supported abortion assistance funds, and even a walk through of the judicial bypass process used by teenagers to get abortions without parental consent (Choice: Texas, 2014).

Colin Campbell, writing for Polygon, captures the importance of this game, and similar ones, within a few sentences:

“Games are increasingly being used to deliver serious messages about complex issues, by seeking to place players in the shoes of individuals most affected…[Games like this] feature protagonists who live in a place of suffering and whose options are limited by their own circumstances…They deliver a valuable opportunity to see the world through someone else’s eyes.”

In the case of Choice: Texas, this was especially the situation I found myself in. As a man, I know I will never have to experience the sorts of situations that the fictional women in this game, and the real women in restrictive areas like Texas, have to face and endure. However, in recognizing my male privilege, I also have to recognize that learning about the sorts of struggle women face every day is vital. Firstly, if I ever want to make informed statements about this topic, I feel it is my obligation as a human being to call upon factual information in these discussions. I also have to primarily consider the experiences and perspectives of women that actually have to deal with these issues and face systems that want to limit their choices. Along with this, I understand that I may very well be in a situation with my future partner or spouse, where we are faced with a poorly timed pregnancy, or some other issue in our efforts to start or grow our family. I have to gain that sort of knowledge so that I can understand what my partner is going through, and so that I may be the most supportive partner to them that I can possibly be.

The fact that this game deals with such a controversial topic, however, means that not everyone would be as pleased with its existence as I was. Of course, the lion’s share of the criticism has come from proponents of the Texas abortions restriction laws, especially those involved with pro-life organizations. Emily Horne of Texas Right to Life, for instance, claimed that the game “…reduces abortion to a dry, simplistic view and…completely ignores the voice of the unborn baby…” (Campbell). Of course, as one could see from playing the game, the situations are anything but dry and simplistic; in fact, everything from emotions, to faith, to family strife, is all factored in, and abortion isn’t even the only offered option (Choice: Texas, 2014). Another article, which goes out of it’s way to criticize the game before further details, and the game itself, were even released, claims that the game “…misleads kids into thinking pro-life legislators are the villains and abortions are the worthy cause..” and that “…Choice: Texas does not provide gamers…the option to guide characters to crisis pregnancy centers…” (Townhall). While the former is a matter of personal opinion, albeit an opinion that couldn’t have been made with actual evidence given the time frame, the latter purely serves to demonize the game and turn people against it before it debuts. This point is also made questionable by the fact that visiting a crisis pregnancy center is indeed an option offered for one of the characters, although this visit only serves to torture the character as she is subject to a condescending and un-empathetic doctor, and this might not be the case with all crisis pregnancy centers (Choice: Texas, 2014).

Overall, I believe that the game does an excellent job of opening player perspectives in the way that it induces absorption through its text (Calleja). By weaving detailed stories and forming the personal lives of these characters down to the small details, it creates a vision within the mind of the player that would not have been possible to actually render onto a screen, given their limited budget and lack of professional design & development resources. Furthermore, it’s implementation of affective involvement through the emotional nature of many of the stories serves to draw players further into the story, and at least give a glimpse of the difficulty behind these decisions (Calleja).

Works Cited

Calleja, G. In-Game: From Immersion to Incorporation. Cambridge: MIT, 2011. 35-46. Print.

Campbell, Colin. “Choice: Texas Brings Abortion, Controversy to Gaming.” Polygon. Polygon, 29 Aug. 2013. Web. 02 Apr. 2017.

Fussel, Sidney. “A Q&A with the Creators of ‘Choice: Texas,’ a Video Game about Reproductive Justice.” Arkansas Times. Arkansas Times, 8 Aug. 2014. Web. 3 Apr. 2017.

Kocurek, Carly and Whipple, Allyson 2017, Choice: Texas, video game, computer, Choice: Texas

O’Brien, Cortney. “Cortney O’Brien – Get Ready for ‘Choice:Texas’ — The Abortion Video Game.” Townhall. Townhall.com, 03 Sept. 2013. Web. 02 Apr. 2017.

Frogger (1981)-Ryan Najjar

Now one of the most iconic arcade games of all time, Frogger (Konami 1981) was initially presented to the public in Japan in June of 1981. Incidentally enough, this was the same year that Ms. Pacman was released, although Frogger managed to hold it’s own in spite of competition, and triumphed in it’s own right. It was originally developed by Robert Pappas, developed by Konami, and was then transferred to Sega, who collaborated with Gremlin Industries to make Frogger machines on a mass scale. Due to it being an instant hit with the masses, other developers began to release their own versions of the game, although the official sequel, also named Frogger, was not released until 1997. Afterwards, there was Frogger 2- Swampy’s Revenge (2000 Hasbro Interactive), and others that followed. Although it was originally made as an arcade machine, it was subsequently adapted to various Atari consoles during the mid-80s, with other developers adapting it to various other computers and consoles afterwards. The game company Milton Bradley even made a board game of the same name, although one can imagine gameplay would be slightly different in that context.

It is a one/two-player game with a four-way joystick for you to move your character around. Said character is, as implied by the title, a frog, who must cross a road filled with passing cars, and journey across a river by jumping onto turtles and logs to eventually make it back to his home in the swamp. While the name implies that it’s a singular character, Frogger actually represents an infinite number of frogs that the player has to get home. To complete a level, you must get five frogs into respective “spaces” in the swamp within the allotted minute. You’re usually allotted five lives, which can be taken away when you get hit by a car, fall into the river, get bitten by a snake, or get eaten by a crocodile. Each and every level has the same layout, although the difficulty increases with passing levels, and one can technically play forever, since the main objective of the game is to collect as many points as possible. Points can be earned by moving forward, although you can only get 100 for this per level, getting the frog into the space, completing a level, bringing the occasional stranded frog with you into a space, and eating flies, along with getting 10 times the remaining seconds added to your score upon level completion. A Virginian software engineer named Michael Smith, who achieved 971,440 points in 2012, holds the current record.

Along with being one of the most well-known arcade fixtures, it also inspired an entire episode of Seinfeld, where George Costanza and company try to save a Frogger machine that had George’s high score of 860,630. Along with this, there was an entire eponymous cartoon on CBS, a song called “Froggy’s Lament,” by Buckner and Garcia, and the namesake character appeared in the hit movie, “Wreck-It Ralph,” released by Walt Disney Animation Studios in 2012.

Works Cited:

Robert Pappas/Konami 1981, Frogger, Video game, arcade machine, Sega/Gremlin

Industries

“Frogger: Classic Arcade Game Video, History & Game Play Overview.” Arcade Classics.

Arcade Classics, n.d. Web. 01 Mar. 2017.

“Frogger [Model GX392].” Gaming History. Alexis Bousiges, n.d. Web. 01 Mar. 2017.

Whitwam, Ryan. “Frogger Arcade Game Has A New World Record High Score.” Geek.com.

Ziff Davis, LLC, 23 Sept. 2012. Web. 1 Mar. 2017.