A fake news fighting game that became an unexpected viral hit continues to provide teachers with a useful classroom tool to help students spot the real from fake.
“Factitious,” was launched with a simple question from American University Adjunct Professor Maggie Farley to Assistant Professor Bob Hone: “What if we could build a game to see if people could tell if an online story was real or fake?” The Tinder-style swipe game quickly went viral, earning 139,000 plays in its first two days and more than 339,000 times in the first month.
As word of the game spread, Hone realized teachers were using the game in their classroom.
“The classroom traffic started last September and ran through the full academic year,” Hone said. “Things got quiet during the summer and came roaring back towards the end of August and then in full bloom this September. It's the repeated and continuing use of Factitious this fall that is the biggest surprise to me.”
The recent flood of traffic has pushed the game close to one million total plays, with a big portion of that coming from educators.
“Factitious has been a fun way to get students to make that connection between fake news stories that are actually out there circulating, and their critical thinking skills,” said Sarah Hood a reference librarian at Santa Fe Community College in New Mexico. “When they actually have to give a verdict yay or nay as to whether a story is fake, it kind of ups the ante in a fun way.”
And with more satire and fake news sites entering social media feeds, the game came at a critical time.
"I've been looking for journalism games for the last 3-4 years," said Scott Truffiash, Language Arts instructor at Avonworth High School in the outer boroughs of Pittsburgh. "I wanted to have a different way to enter the discussion of fake news. Factitious was a nice launching point to get people to learn more about where the news is coming from."
On October 1, The Factitious Team re-launched the game with new articles to be released each Monday and a scoring system for players who want to track their progress and compete against others.
“One of the great results of our success is that we can see players getting better at spotting fake news the more they play” said Bob Hone. “We want to extend this learning to produce an even bigger effect.”
Like its predecessor, “Factitious 2018” won’t be make spotting the real from the fake easy. Players of the original version were fooled by seeing stories from fake sources that appeared to be real, such as “TheMississippiHerald.com.” In the age of fake news and realistic looking, but still fake URL’s, Hone offers the following tips for spotting fake news in “Factitious 2018” and on the Internet.
“Fake news purveyors are upping their game, so people need to adopt a skeptical view of online news. Is this a well-known source? Does the writer use flamboyant language? (real news articles don’t). Is it a singular opinion or a fact-based approach?”
“Factitious 2018” is available for play at: http://factitious.augamestudio.com/#/.
A more detailed history of Factitious can be found here.
Fast Facts About Factitious
- More than 70,000 people played the game on the first day of release.
- To date, players have rated nearly 9 million articles.
- The “Factitious2018 team” consists of Bob Hone (producer/designer), Chas Brown(developer), Joyce Rice (UX/UI designer), and Maggie Farley (co-designer). The team for the original Factitious game included Founding Game Lab Director Lindsay Grace as well as MA Game Lab grads Kelli Dunlap and Cherrise Datu.
- Games are engaging when they’re “appropriately difficult”–not too easy to be boring and not too hard to be frustrating. In the testing phase, articles that most users guessed correctly were excluded (too easy); if half of the testers got an article wrong, it was also discarded (too hard or confusing).