Fake it or Make it

Mark Villari

Introduction

Similar to the games we played for the previous blog post, Fake it to Make it offered an interesting look into a political topic, being fake news in this case. Fake news is a phenomenon that came sweeping into American politics during the most recent election. From an American perspective, this type of news serves to be problematic, spreading fake information and reinforcing false ideologies. The impact it had was immense, as I learned from one of my classes this semester. The estimated influence of fake news made it possible for President Trump to win the election instead of Hillary. Therefore, its political significance is undeniable. However, many of the content creators were not intending to interrupt American politics, they were just trying to earn money. Fake it or Make it makes this financial incentive apparent, through procedural rhetoric. By placing the player in the perspective of a content creator, players are able to understand fake news from a new perspective.

To expand on this, the intent of the creators was not to highlight the content creators but to instead make it possible for people to identify fake news. By having players act in this position, it seems that they were hoping to showcase the issue of fake news instead of the incentive behind it. I gathered this from their explanation of the game. Regardless, the way in which I played the game was from a perspective that understood the intention as being to point out the reasons such news is created.

Gameplay

When you begin the game, you are able to select from one of four characters to “guide” you. They serve as your mentor in the game. After, you enter your name and then you are able to choose a financial goal. For the game I played, I chose the music equipment, as recommended. My financial goal, then, was $200. In order to reach set financial goal, players must create a fake news website, choosing a logo, a layout, and a means of income, which was ads by default for beginners. When you start the game, your mentor sets goals for you and introduces you to the different elements of the game. These elements involve copying articles, using catchy headlines, and then planting the articles on social media sites in the hopes they receive traffic. All the while, players manage their site while they monitor the amount of views, shares, and likes they receive. You can write your own articles, as well. More or less, players manage their website while trying to reach goals, with the ultimate aim being the financial goal set at the beginning. On the track to do so, players gain credibility for their fake news website and post more and more articles with different emotional responses from viewers.

Socio-cultural context

As discussed in the introduction, this game offers a look into the fake news industry, which played a significant role in the outcome of the 2016 U.S. presidential election. However, the game’s socio-cultural context can be understood as indicative of the socio-economic state those who create the content are in. As I learned in my Social Media class, much of the fake news that permeates through America is created by teens in the Balkans. These Macedonian teens have issues making money in the poor economy and are able to make a decent income by creating these sites, copying news, making a catchy headline, and having it spread online. They then collect the money for their own capital gain. Unfortunately, articles on Trump yielded the most profit for these young individuals, so they took the opportunity to capitalize on American politics.

Furthermore, fake news was created for the America as the profit from ads is the best in the American market. In addition to this, the political situation in America was easy to exploit. As the Democratic and Republican parties became increasingly divided, news for or against either candidate gained heavier and heavier traffic. These articles would be shared more, and consequently, viewed more. While the content creators made an income, false ideologies were being spread around America and people were not looking for the signs of falsity, as the concept caught America off-guard.

Altogether, the game highlighted the incentives behind creating fake news and the methods in which content creators go about making it in the context of American politics.

Effectiveness

I thought the game was very effective in displaying the innocence of creating fake news. Thrown amongst the political news were stories on health trends, on cute puppies, and so forth. This displayed the potential topics in which content can be created for financial gain. However, it was apparent that the American political topics gained the most views, shares, and likes. In doing so, the believability of fake news was shown in an attempt to express the need for readers to make sure the news they are reading is trustworthy and true. 

Sources

https://www.buzzfeed.com/craigsilverman/how-macedonia-became-a-global-hub-for-pro-trump-misinfo?utm_term=.yhXNMGqZV#.qyMr3y6Jj

https://firstdraftnews.com/fake-news-complicated/

Choice:Texas

Mark Villari

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INTRODUCTION

Considering the political state of the United States, Choice:Texas offers an interesting exploration of the access women have to reproductive healthcare in Texas. This game allows players to choose one of five women to follow in a choose your own adventure narrative. Each woman has an unplanned pregnancy (except for Jess, whose pregnancy was planned but the complications were not) and must make decisions in regards to remaining pregnant or having an abortion. Naturally, each character faces different things to consider and must make unique choices based off of these considerations. Ultimately, the storylines of the characters exhibit the stress and anxieties women must face when they are doubting their pregnancy and considering abortion. It lays forth the various obstacles they have to deal with and the repercussions of their decisions.   

As Bogost discussed in “Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Video Games,” this game employs the use of procedural rhetoric to persuade players to sympathize with the women in the situation in favor of being pro-choice. The procedure in which users partake is learning of the character’s pregnancy and making life-changing decisions ranging from who to speak with to having the baby or not. By doing this, players are meant to recognize the hardship the women of Texas must go through when facing reproductive healthcare issues. Players must actively make difficult decisions that women have to make in real life when they have an unplanned pregnancy or unplanned complications. Altogether, this game works as a persuasive and educational form of media.

GAMEPLAY

The game begins when you choose one of the five female characters: Latrice, Leah, Alex, Jess, or Maria. After choosing the character, you are introduced to the situation the character is in, being given the context of their socioeconomic standing, marital status, age, and so forth. After reading the first page, you hit “next” to go on with the story. Though this part is relatively passive, players must make the choice to continue onward with the narrative. After reading through a few screens and selecting “next,” players are confronted with options on how to continue the story. Depending on the character, the choice may ask who the character should talk to, what clinic they should look into or whether or not to prioritize work or their pregnancy. Eventually the story tends to boil down to the following choices: abort the baby, have the baby and put it up for adoption, or have the baby and keep it. The choices that are made affect the rest of the story; in the end, the matter at hand comes to a conclusion but the repercussions are made clear. 

The choice to make Choice:Texas a game has significance. It could have been created on another platform but by using the element of interactivity that video games employ, it uses procedural rhetoric. When using the word “game” though, I would like to abide to the definition of Sid Meier: “a game is a series of interesting choices” (Egenfeldt-Nielsen) Choice:Texas is exactly that. Players make “interesting” decisions for the characters. These decisions can completely disrupt the character’s perceived or expected future.  Players must use their reason to make these decisions though there is no obvious course of action. This allows users to understand the significance of choice in relation to pregnancy.

CHARACTERS

As I mentioned earlier, the game does an excellent job at offering players a range of perspectives. The five female characters have different factors that come into play when making the decision what to do about their pregnancy. Following is an introduction to each character.

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Latrice: Latrice and her boyfriend have always agreed that they don’t want kids. Both of them are very successful in their careers and think that having a child is not for them. However, when Latrice finds out she is pregnant, she reasons that she must have forgotten to take her birth control. Latrice offers a perspective from a financially sound position. However, the pregnancy affects her career and her relationship with her boyfriend.

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Leah: Leah is a bartender living with her parents and trying to save money. When she is raped, she tries to ignore it until she finds out she is pregnant. From then on, she must decide what to do with the child. Does she want a child that is the product of rape? Is she in a financially sound position to have the child?

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Alex: Alex is at the beginning of her senior year and is the captain of the cross-country team. She is also on track. These accomplishments make her future look promising for college and scholarships. However, her boyfriend Eric got her pregnant even though they used a condom. Alex has to navigate her relationship with her boyfriend, family, and coach to determine what to do about her pregnancy. As a youth, she must have parental consent for an abortion.

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Jess: Jess and her husband have been trying to have a baby and when things went as planned, issues arose with the pregnancy. Jess was bearing a child that would have major health complications and faced a tough decision of whether to have the child or not. She has to consider abortion in relation to the health concerns, putting her in a place of deep anxiety.

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Maria: Maria is a part-time licensed vocational nurse taking care of her three children. She wants to go back to school but has too much responsibility as a mother and a wife. In addition to this, she must carefully calculate the money she spends to pay for the needs and wants of her family. When Maria finds out she is pregnant, she must consider all of these concerns and if she has the child, she would need to delay going to school for even more time as she would need to raise the child.

The various stories of these women express the many different struggles and considerations that must be thought about when having an unplanned child.

SOCIO-CULTURAL CONTEXT

According to the game’s website, the full version of Choice:Texas became available towards the end of 2014. During this time, the debate over abortion was fervent, and today it still is. As an American living primarily in New York City, supporting the pro-choice movement is popular in my geographic area. However, southern states, including Texas, are often understood as having a conservative majority that supports pro-life. Therefore, reproductive healthcare in the area is not as accessible and faces legal disruption. An article from the Huffington Post highlights the impact of an anti-abortion law passed in Texas in November of 2013 that shut down 19 of the 41 clinics in the state, making it harder for women to undergo abortion (Bassett). These limitations have only gotten worse as there are even more preventative measures in place now. Pro-life supporters continue to try and place restrictions on abortions and have even proposed bills that would label abortion as a felony (Guarecuco). With such a discourse surrounding abortion in the area, the public stress and anxiety associated with having one acts as a barrier for the women considering it.

Furthermore, according to the crowdfunding page the creators of this game used, the healthcare in place has various legal barriers in place to dissuade women from having an abortion. This ranges from mandatory ultrasounds to minors needing parental consent. One of the more upsetting obstacles is bias counseling in which women are discouraged from having an abortion. In addition to this, long clinic waiting times make the process timely and difficult. Altogether, this game was created in the socio-cultural context of pro-life Texas. It educates players of the various legislative restrictions that play out in clinics and the legal changes that force clinics to close. On top of this, the game explores life for diverse demographics of women that live in Texas and confronts the socioeconomic, geographic, and financial barriers that make getting an abortion so difficult for women in different situations. In doing so, the creators stress the different incomes these women have, their job flexibility, and their options for transport, expressing how they must be considered while handling their pregnancy.

EFFECTIVENESS

Overall, the pro-choice agenda of this game is effective for me, a firm believer in a women’s right to choose. However, the effectiveness on me seems irrelevant as the purpose is to persuade an audience who has not chosen to be pro-choice. As the game covers a diverse range of women, it has different channels open for empathy. This affords flexibility in audience and perhaps is effective for those who were not pro-choice prior to playing.  Conclusively, the use of procedural rhetoric in the gameplay of Choice:Texas serves as a useful device in the pro-choice movement. Considering the most recent election in the U.S. and the stress women must undergo in relation to abortion, this game approaches the topic in a persuasive and educational manner.

WORKS REFERENCED

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

Egenfeldt-Nielsen, S., Smith, J. H., & Tosca, S. P. (2008). Understanding video games: the essential introduction. New York: Routledge (pp. 32-44).

Kocurek, C., Whipple, A., (2014). Choice:Texas. http://playchoicetexas.com/index.php

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/choice-texas-a-very-serious-game#/

http://news.playchoicetexas.com/

https://www.plannedparenthood.org/planned-parenthood-center-for-choice/texas-abortion-laws

https://www.texasobserver.org/new-bill-aims-make-abortion-felony-texas/

https://www.guttmacher.org/fact-sheet/state-facts-about-abortion-texas

https://texaspolitics.utexas.edu/set/pro-life-pro-choice-identification-june-2016#overall

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/23/texas-abortion-rate-drops_n_5613293.html

Donkey Kong (1981)

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Image Courtesy of Wikimedia

When reflecting on the history of gaming, I often think about one of the classic Nintendo games, Donkey Kong (Nintendo 1981), released in 1981. This platform genre game features two renowned Nintendo characters, Donkey Kong and Mario, in rivalry. Donkey Kong throws barrels down at Mario to prohibit him from saving the woman that Donkey Kong has captured. It is the game player’s objective to climb to the top and save this lady, named Pauline. To do so, the gamer must direct Mario over barrels, up ladders, and to the platform where Pauline is located. While doing so, one may earn points by collecting items to increase their score. However, in order to stay alive, they must avoid the barrels which roll down the platforms and ladders.

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Image Courtesy of Microsiervos on Flickr

Donkey Kong (Nintendo 1981) was groundbreaking for a variety of reasons. It was one of the earliest platform games, the first being Space Panic (Universal 1980), and the first platform game to use jumping as a way of avoiding obstacles and hopping from platform to platform. Furthermore, it has four unique stages and was one of the first games to include this multi-stage element. After the player completes all four stages, the game begins again from stage 1 but increases in difficulty. The game goes on until the player loses all of their lives or until they reach level 22, at which there is an error in the game’s programming which kills Mario quickly. Another reason that Donkey Kong (Nintendo 1981) is renowned in the gaming industry is that it introduced the first complete narrative. Other video games did not have this narrative element to them at the time. Nintendo achieved this through the use of cutscenes which was introduced by Pacman (Namco 1980). Furthermore, the storyline of the game was created prior to the programming, which was also unusual at the time.

Donkey Kong’s (Nintendo 1981) significance for Nintendo, though, lies mostly in its success abroad. It allowed the Japanese company to enter the North American market. Despite trademark infringement allegations from Universal City Studios in relation to their game King Kong (Universal 1980), Donkey Kong (Nintendo 1981) was deemed not in violation of these terms and served to be a crucial proponent in Nintendo’s current success in the gaming industry. At the time of the game’s release, the Nintendo company was trying to break into overseas markets. In an attempt to do so, Hiroshi Yamauchi, the company’s president, thought it would be wise to repurpose their previously manufactured game, Radar Scope (Nintendo 1979), into another arcade game as there were many unsold machines. He hired Shigeru Miyamoto to design the new game. At first, they intended to make the game about Popeye but since they were unable to get the right’s, they invented the Donkey Kong (Nintendo 1981) characters instead. Evidently, this proved to work in the company’s benefit. By the end of June 1982, Donkey Kong (Nintendo 1981) had brought in over $180 million for Nintendo through the sale of around 60,000 machines. Its success continued and it was monumental for the growth of Nintendo.

Altogether, Donkey Kong (Nintendo 1981) was impactful for a variety of reasons. It brought economic success to Nintendo (allowing for expansion), it introduced new elements to video games, and became a renowned symbol in video game culture. 

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Image Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Works Cited:

“Donkey Kong (video game).” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 27 Feb. 2017.

Kent, Steven L. (2002). The Ultimate History of Video Games: The Story Behind the Craze that Touched our Lives and Changed the World. New York: Random House International.