Fake It To Make It is a game that puts you in charge of a website devoted to creating and spreading fictional and/or sensationalised online "news" articles. It has been put together by someone who clearly knows how online media works, and that makes it more than a little frightening.
Amanda Warner, the game's designer, says Fake It is primarily inspired by "the Macedonian teenagers who profited from fake news leading up to the 2016 election in the United States".
The game takes place entirely within the confines of a publishing platform, where you're tasked with either writing or copying (like, literally copying) sensational news pieces, pushing them out onto the internet and making sure you get paid for your work (or lack thereof).
An overview of the main game screen, tracking things like your income and story performance.
As someone who spends 9-10 hours a day looking at a platform like this, and who despite ten years in this job still gets a little queasy at the disconnect between how easy it is to hit "publish" and how many people end up seeing your stuff, playing the game was a weirdly queasy experience. Very much a "there but for the Grace of God" moment.
Always game to try different emotions.
The platform you use looks real. The methods you use for maximising your audience -- looking at what's "trending", what people are into and who is talking about it -- are real. Even the game's focus on keywords, Twitter followers and SEO tags are grounded in online publishing.
This is where your Facebook Uncle's posts come from.
It's fictional and abstract, then, but so is actual online publishing. While most tags are short, sharp and comedic, they're also so close to actual "bad content" that the whole thing ends up coming across as a simulation as much as a commentary.
Indeed, the whole thing feels so authentic that as Warner admits, she's aware that it could almost be used as a training tool.
I'm willing to take the risk, because I think the potential for positive change in players is worth it.
My hope is that by making players more aware of how and why fake news is written and distributed, that they will be more sceptical of what they encounter in the future. In general, I think that better understanding how and why we are manipulated by others, for profit or power, is worthwhile knowledge to have.
Ideally, these are the actions, attitudes, and beliefs I would like to see in players of this game.
You can play the game in your browser here.
That first approach seems to always work. And while political scandals might seem like they'd dominate proceedings, there are still plenty of celebrity scandals and puppy videos to work with as well.