New game teaches students how to identify disinformation

Lecturers and students at Masaryk University in Brno have developed an interactive game that focuses on teaching the ability to distinguish between disinformation and trustworthy news. The length of one game is especially taylored to fit into an hour of teaching at school and its developers hope that it will be implemented by schools, orphanages and old age homes.

Photo: archive of Masaryk University in BrnoPhoto: archive of Masaryk University in Brno It is 2028 and the Czech presidential race is on. However, one candidate has an evil masterplan. He wants to cancel the summer holidays for students. To escape this terrifying prospect, players in the role of journalists are forced to use critical thinking and counterchecking to create accurate news and figure out which of the candidates is the villain.

That is roughly the scenario of the newly developed “Fakescape”; a game focused on developing the skills necessary to distinguish between fake news and trustworthy sources. The man who was in charge of its development, Masaryk University lecturer Miloš Gregor, explains the details.

“The backbone of the game is built on escape games where you have to puzzle out some logical tasks. However, we had to adapt this structure to the logic of the elections and fake news.

“There are four tasks in the game and each one is dedicated to a different art of manipulation. Students have to find out what manipulations are being used. They use laws and other sources to help them navigate, including Google in order to find out information they do not know.”

The game was developed largely by students after Mr. Gregor and his colleague issued a call for projects in the area of identifying disinformation. Julie Vinklová is one of the students who were at the beginning of its development. She explains how the idea came to be.

“We were thinking of doing a competition where one half of the class would be disinformers and the other journalists, but then we thought that it might not be such a good idea to teach kids how to create disinformation, but the journalist part sounded good. So how should we use them?

Miloš Gregor, photo: archive of Masaryk University in BrnoMiloš Gregor, photo: archive of Masaryk University in Brno “We then thought that it is journalists who most commonly have to verify information and that disinformation spreads especially during elections, so we said let's combine these two factors and it just sort of took off from there.”

Asked about the interest in the game so far, Miloš Gregor said many requests have started coming in after the game was announced on Monday.

“So far, we have played the game at four high schools. There are a further ten schools that have already asked us to come and play the game with their students. Yesterday a public library from Prague wrote an email asking us if it could also be played by the general public. Since we published the information yesterday we have already got about 10 to 13 requests.”

Mr. Gregor says it is not the first project seeking to combat fake news that has come out of Masaryk University. He and his students are also responsible for another game as well as a special book on the subject of fake news.

“Two years ago, another one of our projects called Zvol si Info [Choose your information] was established. This is also a project made by our students, another group. They are currently lecturing at high schools about media literacy and critical thinking. They have about 150 schools lecturing 7 000 students so I’d say it is quite successful.

“In January we also published a book called ‘The Best Book on Fake News’, so I think we are really quite active in this field because we find the topic of fake news as crucial in current society.”