Fake It to Make It: MDA Framework

When scrolling to the bottom of the page on many websites today, they are riddled with dramatic titles promising a new teeth whitening technique or weight loss program. This realm of online schemes for quick cash evolves into fabricated political stories to generate ad revenue. Fake news has saturated the content online and grows in visibility as people continue to vocalize extensively and informally through Facebook posts, rarely tracing sources. This phenomenon grew leading a wide circulation of these articles to be speculated to have influenced the US presidential election between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. In an increasingly polarized political atmosphere, fake news furthers the divide with hyper sensationalism. As a US citizen, I had only interacted with it as a receiver and this game gives all players an opportunity to see the inner workings and motivations of fake news as a producer.

The creator of Fake It to Make It, Amanda Warner, had hoped the game would encourage a critically thinking public that was interested in properly assessing and discerning fake, exploitative news. Fake It to Make It dissects fake news into its core tactics and imitates its process for the player to situate their minds in that of running a fake news website. It is a simulation game with the goal to gain profit by creating viral fake news content. When contextualizing the game with the goal of personal achievements and purchases like band equipment or a new home, fake news becomes more complicated. It becomes exciting and justified in a way, fake news begins to have a purpose. The player gains awareness of the functions of fake news through the mechanics in the game. Game mechanics are the various actions afforded to the player which contribute to game dynamics, the behavior of the mechanics on the player, which create the aesthetics, the desirable emotions evoked in the player (Jaroslav, 2017). These mechanics teach the political exploitation, emotional exploitation and the techniques of gaining visibility in an era of high speed of news.

The goals of the game direct the player to first explore and toy with the public’s emotions: fear, anger and happiness. Often comments on a positive news article on Facebook will speak of the high concentration of negative news in the sphere and desperately wish for more encouraging news along similar lines to the article. One of the games mechanics teaches the player very simply why this phenomenon exists- exploiting happiness has very low yield. When publishing an article tagged neutral and planted in neutral groups for the sole purpose of creating happiness, very little profit is made. A large portion of the profits within the game are made when the player chooses drama tags that exploit the trending fears and angers in the specific time frame. The tutorial asks the player to experiment with invoking all three emotions, but the game mechanics encourage the player to rely on anger and fear because they are the most successful. After achieving the “happiness” goal, I never published a neutral article again. The game also provides updates on polls showing trends and allows the player to experience the agency of their in game choices based on exploiting emotions. Because I had published a popular article about immigration and crime, exploiting the fear of immigrants, the public polls showed that fear of crime was at an all-time high despite the statistic realities within the fictional country.

Not as explicitly guided, the player learns that exploiting emotions linked to political issues is incredibly beneficial in gaining profits. The player is told that an article with high scores of drama and believability are more profitable and are then given the option to write articles with neutral or political bases and supports. The player will eventually understand after fiddling with the mechanics, the combinations of bases and supports, that nonpolitical articles fail in these crucial categories and therefore, the public will not care and will then not share the article. The mechanics also encourage planting a politicized article (ex: tagged orange party) into an online group that shares the same political view (also tagged orange party) in order to maximize profits. The more an article has tags that match the tags of the online group, the more popular the article will be. This teaches players that the public will read news that reaffirms their beliefs and makes them more conscious of blindly accepting news that aligns with their politics. This technique has real implications outside the game as this results in stronger polarization and further segregation in an already divided political arena in the US. The use of both the purple and orange tags as a means to increase profits brings awareness that both political parties can be exploited. It is easy to accuse the opposing political party of being “sheeples,” but in reality, every party is vulnerable and lack critical assessments. The game also offers the option to create a new site to target the other political party (as the players learns earlier on that political congruity is important) but the public cannot detect if separate sites are owned by the same creator. This is possible because of the previous mechanism: a reader polarized will very rarely read an article bent towards the opposition and therefore the two audiences never intersect.

The game mechanics also teach players how fake site creators can navigate the high speed characteristic of news. This is introduced in the “trending” goal where the player must race to write an article with tags that will match the trending tags of the day. Trending topics so quickly switch gears which makes writing more difficult. The player has pressure enforced through the calendar and time restrictions the game imposes in contrast to the expenses deducted over time. Choosing a good base and support is difficult due to the high speed frequency of trending tags. In these instances, plagiarism (“copying article” option) is easy to resort to and in order to maximize drama, you must sacrifice truth and believability.

It is interesting to see this interactive medium be used as a tool to educate the public using the same manipulative tools that had exploited this audience. Warner addresses the possibility that this game may, in reality, diverge away from its intended purpose and actually teach players how to generate fake news websites and inspire players to gain profits from similar schemes. She includes a diagram to illustrate the ways in which she hopes the game will influence players to be critical thinkers by educating them through game mechanics to expose the appeals to emotions, confirmation bias, partial truths and misleading specifics. This reminds me of Barbara Kruger’s tactics to educate the public on the manipulative techniques advertising agencies use to exploit consumers by using these same techniques for her own purposes. She shifts the power dynamic by giving consumers tools to better analyze their environment. Warner’s immersive process through game mechanics successfully teaches players tactics to be watchful of through indirect means.

This game becomes more interesting as the public grows warier of the information they are reading since politicians transform this term into a double edged sword in our political climate. It is a weapon used to discredit the opposition on no basis. This game teaches readers to be attentive to tactics fake news producers use to create viral political news but fails to address the new ways politicians themselves use the term to continue exploiting the public, but this time through very fear of “fake news.” This game can also make political parties, through the critical use of tags as a exploitative means, seem trivial and counteractive in ways that may disengage the player from participating in politics, which is also unproductive.

Prior to playing, I had not realized the extent of the politicization of fake news especially through the highly calculated means used to garner views. Playing through Fake It to Make It highlighted the financial benefits gained by successfully targeting both ends of the political spectrum and has made me conscious of the economic factor I had never considered before. I had falsely assumed that fake news articles were written by citizens just as passionate as they were deceitful in the political atmosphere rather than detached young people looking to make a quick buck. It is unsettling to see how easily profiles could be categorized and targeted by the orange and purple tags and their subset of topics. People often believe that the views they are voicing are important, valuable or even unique but to see these subjects so easily classified exposes how little individual critical thinking we really employ. Seeing these tags exposes the greater powers influencing our core beliefs and how they are exploited for both profit in fake news and the political sphere.

 

Works Cited

Svelch, Jaroslav. “Games, immersion and ethics: Understanding avatars and player       agency.” New York University Prague. 15 March, 2017. Lecture.

Amanda Warner 2017. Fake It to Make It, video game. Free to play.

 

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Choice Texas: Exploring Its Procedural Rhetoric & Its Affordance As A Women’s Reproductive Health Educational Simulation

Choice Texas is an interactive storytelling game that examines the spectrum of obstacles that pregnant women from all walks of life face when accessing abortion in Texas. The game offers options to play characters with specific socioeconomic, geographic, and demographic factors ranging from a successful lawyer to a high school cross country captain. Each of these characters has an unique environmentally situated support group that affects options that are offered in game. Texas legislation ties these narrative together as each character must confront the striking regulations that limit their choices and have resulted in clinic closures. As of 2008, 92% of Texas counties had no abortion provider (Kocurek). Through the years, Texas has passed bills that indirectly restrict abortions by increasing the obstacles women must face with the process. In 2011, Texas Legislature passed a law that required women to receive an extra ultrasound 24 hours before her abortion. This is medically unnecessary and requiring multiple visits to the clinic becomes inconvenient and stressful (Planned Parenthood). Today this accessibility question remains increasingly relevant as women’s reproductive choice is continually in the hands of government officials who are overwhelmingly men. Legislators fail to recognize the consequences of collective micro aggressions and the day to day realities of women who encounter these bills. Choice Texas utilizes the choose your adventure format to engage players to identify as the characters and experience both the big and small obstacles in full, fleshed out narratives while offering optimistic, solution driven resources interweaved into the gameplay. Choice Texas aims to educate and add perspective to the abortion debate by inviting players to explore the experiences of others, acting as procedural rhetoric.

By dissecting the multifaceted aspects of abortion, players must anticipate the impact financial limitations, geographical location, and legal regulations that women seeking reproductive healthcare must face. This is in part executed through the variety in the choice of stories and characters themselves. Choice Texas recognizes the varying circumstances that women may encounter that force them to consider abortion. Latrice is successful career wise but has economic responsibilities while looking over her family and must balance work and pregnancy all the while never especially wanting to be a mother. Jess is a pro life advocate who is forced to consider abortion as her baby would suffer if it had come to term. Leah must consider abortion as she was drugged at her shift as a bartender and sexually assaulted. These storylines themselves diverge from the stereotypical teenage pregnancy. The game even inspects teenage pregnancy and counters these stereotypes with Alex, a responsible student character that practiced safe sex but now faces unexpected consequences.

The unique situation of each of these characters affect the choices available which becomes the system that dictates behavior and chains of action in terms of procedural rhetoric (Bogost). This becomes the means to express the multifaceted nature of abortion. Both Alex and Leah must consider geographical limitations of receiving treatment as both reside in rural towns. Scheduling time between work and school then becomes a constant obstacle throughout the storyline and the player must choose what to prioritize (often having to skip school or work entirely). The player must also consider financial limitations as choices offered change when you play as Alex, a student with a savings account under her parent’s name and when you play as Latrice who is financially able to consider abortion. In Alex’s case, the player actively considers adoption as adoptive parents often cover medical expenses of the pregnancy. The player must also confront her ex-boyfriend to help pay for the procedure and reach out to the Lilith Fund for Reproductive Equity. In terms of choices available as result of specific legislation that characters face, Leah and Latrice are drastically different. In order to proceed with adoption, Texas requires the paternal father to sign documents. The player must navigate Leah through this obstacle as she has no proof to hold her rapist legally accountable and cannot confront him due to trauma. The player’s choices even diverge between Leah and Alex as Alex faces additional legislation in terms of age. The player must navigate Alex through Judicial Bypass and reach out to Jane’s Due Process. Another factor that affects the choices the player is given is the immediate support circle of the character. Alex and Latrice vary here as Alex consults Coach Landon who recommends Pregnancy Help Medical Center that persuades her that abortion is extremely dangerous while Latrice can approach her well educated, trusted colleague at work. This selection of choices continue as consequences throughout the storyline as the player must anticipate the reactions of the loved ones and careers of your character.

This format of interactive fiction where the game designer’s systems and chains of actions become procedural rhetoric creates moments for the the player to immerse themselves in the identity of the character. When given the responsibility to maneuver obstacles and make pivotal decisions, the player is placed in the center of the process where logical decision making grows into a personal connection. The format welcomes players to wonder “What would I do?” The detail orientated narrative of the format carries the player through every emotional wave of frustration come with every moment of complication and microaggression that players most often removed from these narratives had never had to encounter or consider. Details include the considerations and possible consequences of open and closed adoption, descriptions of physical effects like exhaustion and intense cramps and its effects on many details in the storyline, the experience of being banned from your own graduation despite your efforts, and the thought process and awareness felt while under anesthesia for a surgical abortion.

Outside of the system of choices available for player selection, this rhetoric is built into the very mechanics of the game through its solution driven choices. The graphic layout of illustrations that depict a variety of racial and age representations contributes to procedural rhetoric of the variety of ways demographic can affect experience. The game mechanics demonstrate who you choose to consult affects your reproductive health planning and process as whoever the player chooses to consult will affect the player’s choice of buttons and available information to make the following decisions. For example, Alex’s support circle including her coach. The mechanics also actively engage the player to follow the consequences as past decisions force the player to face a strict set of future choices. For example, because the player chooses that Leah keep her baby, the player is now forced to confront her manager at work with no other choice buttons.

Choice Texas not only allows players to experience the obstacles and provide perspective to players, its purpose is also to educate and in some forms, intentionally or not, acts as a reassuring women’s reproductive health procedure simulation. The educational format resembles the NYU Alcohol Safety and Sexual Assault online courses where students read scenarios, make decisions and learn from the direct consequences of their hypothetical actions. The colors used on the website signal a medical experience visually with its soft blue and green that resemble colors used in doctor’s offices. The choices provided to the player illustrate the options and resources available that mimic the real world experience. The detailed narrative follows the step by step procedure with steps of gestation, a Woman’s Right to Know brochure, introducing the Lilith Fund, and details of the judicial bypass process. The button options themselves are very realistic, offering the player “unsure” buttons along with many moments to change your mind even when the player is deep along the adventure on a certain path. The simulation is reassuring in the way that with each decision, whether it be abortion, keeping the baby or adoption, the character is proactive and strong and social workers, support groups, friends and family are available options to confide in. It can slightly romanticize the process as families reunite after disowning the characters or when Latrice’s partner is incredibly willing to cooperate. But, this aspect helps contribute to the narrative satisfaction of the game, and affords the player to recognize the game as a reassuring simulation by demonstrating that no matter the course of action, every character is a hero stronger than they believe to be and is capable of adapting and moving on in some form or another.

 

References

Bogost, I. 2008. Persuasive Games. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. (pp. 28-46) ISBN: 978026202614-7.

Choice Texas 2013, Choice Texas, video game, PC.

Kocurek, Carly. “Choice: Texas, a Very Serious Game.” Indiegogo. N.p., 13 Aug. 2013. Web. 02 Apr. 2017.

“Texas Abortion Laws.” Planned Parenthood Center for Choice. N.p., 25 Jan. 2016. Web. 02 Apr. 2017.

 

SimCity Classic: Building the Simulator Genre and Its Relationship with Education

Lily Li Blogpost 1.

As a fan of simulation games, it had always interested me how this genre came to be and how it continues to be. SimCity Classic (Maxis 1989) was one of the first simulation games to ever hit the market, often mistaken for the first game of its genre. Its concept and creation was an unexpected byproduct of the process used to produce a shooter video game by game designer Will Wright. As Wright found that he enjoyed designing the islands in the level editor of Raid On Bungeling Bay (Broderbund 1984), he began to develop more sophisticated level editors. Simultaneously, Wright was fascinated by the theories of urban planning and was most influenced by System of Dynamic, written by Jay Wright Forrester. The game was strange in its historic gaming context as the original model of the game could not be won or lost. This model is open ended with no set objective. Because of this foreign aspect, countless game publishers refused to pick it up until Maxis agreed to publish it. On the contrary, SimCity was critically acclaimed and recognized within its first year and paved way to the development of the simulator genre.

As for gameplay, SimCity began with an open plot of land in which the player can determine squares as residential, industrial or commercial zones and begin building and upgrading the city with taxes as the primarily source of income for the allotted budget. The game could be classified as mimicry and paidia. The city itself is an imitation and the player role plays as the city mayor, dictating the structure and system of the landscape. The lack of a clear, consistent goal or possibility to win classifies it as paidia. The design of the game is a flat landscape, with an overhead perspective for the player. The graphics are made for computer play and the display is modeled after PC or Macintosh layouts with toolbars. The graphics contain colored flat pixels but are set to give the illusion of 3-D shapes. The audio of the game consists of blasts of static as the player places down roads or zones. As the city continues to develop, small car icons begin to move on the roads as well as train icons that chug along train tracks. The concept of artificial citizens (“Sims”) are crucial to the game as they dictate the construction of buildings based on factors the player controls. These factors include traffic levels, electric power lines, crime levels and proximity to other buildings. To enhance the game with a more distinct goal driven gameplay, SimCity incorporated scenarios such as natural disasters, traffic, or crime.

The game heavily draws from and embeds historic events of the time to develop above scenarios. For example, the scenario in which crime and depressed industry in which the mayor is given 10 years to reduce crime and reorganize the city is structured after Detroit’s dwindling state and the economic recession of the 1970s where the automotive industry collapsed. In another scenario, where an earthquake hits the city and the mayor must control damages, fires and rebuild, is modeled after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. In another scenario, a nuclear power plants faces a meltdown which incinerates the city in which the mayor must rebuild (a scenario which was removed after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster of 2011).

These scenarios also demonstrate Wright’s bias and overarching faith in urban planning. Wright strongly believed in mass transit and was wary and disapproving of nuclear energy, a political agenda that is pushed through the design of the game. In regards to Wright’s confidence in urban planning, real modern issues like crime in cities transform into obstacles that are easily combatted by building police stations (MacDougall, 2011). These assumptions weaved into the gameplay create a cognitive dissonance in today’s context of the game- an educational space where assumptions can be internalized as a disrupted reality. SimCity’s source code was released as the SimCity software was donated to the One Laptop Per Child program, grounding its place as an educational program. As any student in Detroit can see, urban planning has yet to save their city even after 40 years. SimCity treads the simulation and educational game genres, serving an important role in both. SimCity created a relationship between simulator and education which continues to this day including business and management, training games and health and medical games. It paved the trail for its genre, widening the borders of what a successful market game could be, as well as becoming a media form in which the relationship between history, education and gaming can be examined and discussed.

Works Referenced:

Broderbund 1984, Raid On Bungeling Bay, video game, Commodore 64, Broderbund Software

Insert Coin. “SimCity – PC (1989).” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 18 January 2012. Web. 26 February 2017.

MacDougall, Rob. “Seeing Like SimCity.” Web blog post. Play the Past. 26 January 2011. Web. 26 February 2017

Maxis 1989, SimCity Classic, video game, Macintosh, Broderbund Software