Debunking ‘WhatsApp university’s’ misinformation

Explore the dynamics of trust & factual inaccuracies in the age of social media with this game, a fusion of theatre and tabletop gaming experience.
Props used during a playthrough.
Props used during a playthrough.

BENGALURU: In recent years, even the slightest effort in spreading misinformation can achieve a level of virality that most musicians can only dream of for their songs. It’s been nearly a decade since the term ‘post-truth’ entered the popular lexicon, defining an era where emotions and personal beliefs often overshadow objectivity and facts.

This week, a tabletop gaming experience titled Trust Me, It’s a Forward!, inspired by aspects of theatre, offers Bengalureans a chance to dive deep into the murky waters of trust in a world where the very tenets of trust and truth seem increasingly under siege.

A collaboration between KathaSiyah and Studio Oleomingus, directed by city-based theatre personality Karen D’Mello, Trust Me, It’s a Forward! is an immersive tabletop role-playing game that invites participants to explore the changing nature of trust in the age of social media.

“Our objective was to create a space for collective engagement, allowing participants to reflect on the digital age’s challenges, such as information overload and misinformation. We wanted to create a space for people to engage with these systems, even if it’s not part of their professional work, and reflect on their experiences,” shares D’Mello.

“Many people are researching misinformation and disinformation, but we wanted to address how everyday people navigate the vast amount of information and social media content. The game creates a simulation that enables discussions about misinformation, disinformation, and propaganda in a fun and non-prescriptive way, acknowledging and validating participants’ experiences.”

Players are drawn into a narrative set in a sci-fi-inspired underwater world, where they belong to different factions facing various crises. The game’s structure allows participants to make decisions that reflect their faction’s values, prompting them to question their beliefs and biases. “The game is a simulation that explores how we align with information, especially in a post-truth era. It challenges players to consider their beliefs and values when making decisions,” D’Mello explains.

Trust Me, It’s a Forward! blends game design with theatrical elements, ensuring that performance plays a significant role. D’Mello elaborates, “The game is rooted in tabletop role-playing mechanics, but because we are theatre makers, performance is a significant influence. We consider audience engagement, lighting, setting, costumes, and performance, similar to theatre. The Game Master, for instance, is not just a game facilitator but also an actor performing a role.”

One of the most crucial aspects of the game is its deliberate design to be participatory rather than prescriptive. “Players engage with the game without being explicitly told what to do, allowing them to make their own decisions within the game’s framework. The rules provide a structure, but how players choose to engage with them is up to them,” D’Mello says. “We’ve had a few people play it twice, and it’s been interesting to observe that, even though they played the same game, the experience was very different each time depending on the group.” This format ensures collective reflection without imposing moralistic or punitive messages.

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The New Indian Express