‘Plague Inc’ adds fake news scenario ahead of key election date

The ‘Plague Inc’ Fake News update has players discover how to spread false stories. — Picture courtesy of Ndemic Creations
The ‘Plague Inc’ Fake News update has players discover how to spread false stories. — Picture courtesy of Ndemic Creations

SAN FRANCISCO, Dec 6 — Ever wondered how misinformation spreads around the world? Video game Plague Inc maps it out in a new update that arrives ahead of its studio’s national elections.

One of 2019’s top five paid apps on both iPhone and iPad, Plague Inc has gone live with its latest spin on viral transmission: Mutation 17 — The Fake News Update.

The darkly humorous game was first released in 2012 on iOS and Android with console and computer variations in the years since.

It invites players to design and mutate a pathogen so effectively that it eventually infects the entire human race before a successful cure is found.

London-based game developer Ndemic Creations partnered with a UK fact-checking charity, Full Fact, for what they describe as being a “heightened view into the extremes of misinformation.”

Players take on the role of an antagonist seeking to manipulate other people’s beliefs for their own gain.

They have to contend with fact checkers who work to investigate and debunk false theories, replacing them with a more accurate understanding.

The development partners found that existing Plague Inc algorithms translated very well into modelling fake news scenarios — a fitting synergy, given that deadly pandemics and the spread of misinformation both pose a threat to healthy societies, observed game creator James Vaughan.

The game designer came away impressed with Full Fact, a member of the International Fact-Checking Network, recommending that “everyone should use [them] to make sure they really know what is going on.”

The update is due to arrive on Android, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PC in due course.

Plague Inc had previously explored the role of anti-vaccination movements in assisting the spread of disease, whether inadvertently or for malicious purposes.

“Full Fact exists to fight the causes and consequences of bad information,” said Will Moy, Chief Executive of Full Fact.

“We know from experience the harm it can do to lives and communities, whether undermining trust in our democracy or putting our health at risk.”

Earlier in the week, experienced tech writer Adi Robertson laid out her own guide to verifying news stories, especially those that provoke strong reactions, showing “how to look at a viral story, figure out where it's from, and gauge how much to trust it.” — AFP-Relaxnews

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