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Game Sets Sights on Fake News

Screen grab from Factitious game
Factitious helps users learn to spot fake news.

Real or fake? At a time when the reading public daily grapples with the question of fake news, the American University Game Lab/JOLT has created an accessible, easy-to-play game that helps you sort fake news from real.

The brainchild of former AU JOLT Fellow Maggie Farley and designed by AU game professor Bob Hone, Factitious is a quick game that can be played on any platform.

The Factitious team also included AU Game Lab director Lindsay Grace, who oversaw the project, and AU Game Design MA alumni and former Jolt fellows Cherisse Datu and Kelli Dunlap on the design team, and Joyce Rice on art and illustrations. Chas Brown was the game developer.

"Factitious is a playful way of exploring the fake news conundrum," Grace said. "This game is a good way to remind players about what they know and don't know about news."

Farley pitched the concept more than a year ago, before the 2016 presidential campaign brought the challenges of fake news to the spotlight. For purposes of the game, "fake news" is defined as stories fabricated for fun, influence or profit, as well as satire, opinion and spin.

"Fake news is impossible to stop, so we wanted to playfully teach people how to recognize it," said Farley. "But the game is fun to play in itself."

Factitious screen shot

Developed under a Knight Foundation grant, the game engine in the next phase should also be available to newsrooms, schools, or groups that want to adapt a version for their own use. Grace said the game "also demonstrates playful ways for newsrooms to gather data about how players perceive their content."

Other recent Game Lab projects include a trivia game for Vox Media's Polygon pegged to anniversary of Final Fantasy VII and Commuter Challenge, that inspires empathy and taps into a groundswell of frustration around DC Metro’s SmartTrack initiative, developed through a partnership between NPR’s WAMU 88.5.

Factitious comes during a time of increased attention to the issue. Universities are developing new ways to teach media literacy; Facebook has suggested guidelines for spotting fake news, Google has started tagging dubious search results, and CBS 60 Minutes recently tackled the algorithms behind fake news development.

"Facebook and Twitter have created a wild, wild west in online media," Hone said. "Factitious brings a desperately needed dose of civility to online news."

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