The theme of this year's Seattle Design Festival is "About Time". We designed this game in light of pandemic, where people are inundated with media misinformation. Misinformation is much like a pandemic: fake news spreads faster than the truth. Thus, It is important for the friends and families in our lives to work with us to unpack the information that filters through our online experiences. It's about time to become the antibody to the pandemic of fake news.
Media literacy is often not taught explicitly in schools, leaving us to learn such skills for ourselves at varying paces. And in a media landscape riddled with false information, we are all vulnerable. When being taught, media literacy education comes in forms of dry and brief textual information that doesn't evoke curiosity. Plus, most media literacy education uses real-life examples that could be nerve-wrecking and insensitive to some people.
Unlike traditional media literacy education, "The Antibody to the Pandemic of Fake News" gamifies the dangers of misinformation through playful yet truthful misinformation about pigeons. The relatable characters and storyline helps audience to identify different types of misinformation and learn the tools to protect themselves and others. During the span of the design festival, hundreds of people engaged in the game.
How might we create an online game to illustrate the danger of misinformation without inducing anxiety and to introduce media literacy education in an exciting way.
Misinformation inundates our everyday life. It's in the radio, on TV, on social media, in people around you, and in ourselves. Yes, we are all vulnerable in front of misinformation, no matter how educated or experienced you are. Misinformation plays tricks on our cognition and psychology. It evolves and mutates like a virus.
62% of adults in the United States get news from social media.
On average, people come across information that they believe is false once a week.
Some research indicates that falsehoods are 70% more likely to be reposted than the truth.
46% of media consumers can’t identify media disinformation.
Misinformation is often conflated with the truth, making it hard to detect false information. Current events today harbor a great deal of fear and anger that is amplified by uncredited and unreliable sources.
Beyond intensive desk research, We interviewed 15 people, including journalism professionals, professors in media studies, researchers in information disorder, and general media consumers from teenagers to adults, to learn about their experience with misinformation. Here are some key insights:
1. Misinformation is much more complicated than "Fake News". It comes in many forms due to the fact that journalistic motives have been impacted by the flow of money. These behaviors have mutated into unethical practices that bleed into many other forms of information-sharing spaces.
2. People need tools to be responsible for the news they consume: General consumers are vulnerable to media misinformation. Asking them to be responsible for the news and media that they consume is ignorant of the social and economic inequalities that keep them from doing so. Instead we should empower them with tools to become media literate.
3. Audiences love affirmation: Lots of people live in their own echo chamber and it’s hard to change how they think.
4. Media literacy has never been more important than now: Media literacy education has been lacking in schools and the society. Most available resources about media literacy is very didactic.
5. Intellectual modesty and honesty are more important than being right: Peer pressure makes both children and adults think they have to take a stand on a topic and be right. It’s important to tell people that it’s okay to say “I don’t know” and be wrong about something, as long as they continue to seek for the truth.
Considering our research insights and the audience of the Seattle Design Festival, we identified our target audience as youth and young people in Seattle who are baffled with misinformation in their everyday lives. We wanted to design a fun and interactive game that introduces different types of misinformation and important media literacy tools to fight fake news. We also want to show them the important of intellectual modesty.
Empathize with the Characters
We started designing the game by designing the game characters. We designed four young people to make the characters relatable to our target audience. By giving them clear personalities and different challenges in media misinformation, we were able to empathize with them and make them "talk" in their own ways, instead of putting words in their mouths.
My initial concept was a progressive problem-solving game using real-life examples of misinformation and their consequences. For example, the misinformation of "5G tower spreading Coronavirus" has created a lot of racism and violence against Chinese people. However, after discussing the pros and cons of using real-life examples, we agreed that this approach could be anxiety-inducing and distracting people from paying attention to the important messages.
After brainstorming alternative examples of misinformation that's light-hearted but relatable, I decided to bring in a Pigeon in this story. There are many myths and misinformation about pigeons that people are familiar with. Some have become jokes, such as "pigeons are government surveillance", others still linger in people's mind, like "pigeons are flying rats". By using these examples, we were able to create a story that's humorous yet relatable to our target audience.
On top of having a pigeon to become the conflict of the story, we created a character who has an unique experience with misinformation: he falls prey to misinformation by succumbing to peer-pressure, instead of believing in something that's not true. We want to use his example and learning to show our audience that it's okay to be wrong and make mistakes. It's okay to say "I don't know". But you can always keep seeking for truth and be humble about what you don't know.
When designing the game and conversation, we were able to smoothly implement 2 types of misinformation through characters' journeys. However, there are many more out there that people should know. In order to give our audience the access to more media literacy education, we created a in-game crash course that covers 6 types of misinformation and corresponding media literacy tools. In the story, our protagonist searched it online but audience are actually in control of viewing and learning the crash course. After deciding the pigeon will become a key component of the game, I redesigned the crash course interface to be more on-brand.
We iterated different versions of the layout of the conversation interfaces. With the help of our web developers, we were able to prototype and test rapidly with then whole team to find out what looks best on web. We chose the last to be our final design because during testing, we realized that having a white speech bubble at the bottom (like bottom left) will visual confuse people where the web page ends. And having the speech bubble only in the center of the interface makes it block the characters' hand gestures sometimes (top two). So we decided to have a translucent speech bubble with all the element laid out horizontally.
"Antibody to the Pandemic of Fake News is a great tool for teaching people how to identify fake news, with some very applicable examples and wonderful illustrations. Even though some characters believed in fake news at first, they were open to listening to other perspectives and changing their views. I feel we need to encourage more of this openminded attitude in today's age."
Conversation design is about designing personalities
When designing this game, I realized this was not my first time designing conversations. I started as a kid by giving my Barbie dolls conversations. But before I helped them talk, I gave them personalities. The process was the same with this projects: I started by defining the characters' personalities, giving them challenges based on their personalities, and helped them overcome the challenges with different media literacy tools and the guidance of other characters. To me, the characters are beyond fictional: they have ideas and feelings, they make mistakes and they learn from it.