Agents of Influence: Cyber Danger is a spy-themed educational video game that teaches students how to recognize and combat the misinformation they encounter in their daily lives. In this game, students learn about topics including data collection and tracking, algorithms, echo chambers, impostor content, logical fallacies, and data fallacies while practicing three critical thinking skills: research, document analysis, and conversations.
Agents of Influence
Welcome to Agents of Influence! You are a new student at Virginia Hall High School, which is built on the headquarters of the Omni-directional Organization for Propaganda Surveillance (O.O.P.S.), a defunct Cold War-era spy agency. Things on campus are not as they seem: students have been disappearing, and there is some strange activity in the old O.O.P.S. tunnels underground. A shadowy organization called Harbinger seems to behind it all, using misinformation schemes to manipulate the student body to their will.
You will join forces with Taylor Jones, a brilliant outcast senior, to create the Agents of Influence, a spy group dedicated to stopping Harbinger’s schemes and saving the school...
During the pandemic, our news feeds were bombarded with misinformation, or “fake news,” about COVID-19: that people thought hydroxychloroquine injections would cure them, that vaccines were a plan hatched by Bill Gates to implant the American public with microchips, or that the entire pandemic was a money-making scam hatched by the powers-that-be. Initially it was easy to brush these off as isolated incidents, but the viral spreading power of these claims and countless others proved this was a serious issue that could not be ignored.
Some initial research revealed that the issue went far deeper than COVID-19 misinformation. We realized we had a lot to learn if we were going to contribute a meaningful solution, so we got to work.
In the last year we have talked to hundreds of media literacy experts, teachers, parents, librarians, administrators, government officials, and game designers to wrap our heads around this issue and how best to solve it. We have also presented this project to Disney Imagineering Studios, Conejo Valley Rotary Club, the Media Education Lab, Enso Institute, Credibility Coalition, and the National Association of Media Literacy Education Conference.
Agents of Influence is built around three key learning objectives:
Students question the trustworthiness of information.
Students determine the trustworthiness of information.
Students use this knowledge to inform their decisions and build better information consumption habits.
This game has been designed following a number of educational standards frameworks, including Common Core, CASEL SEL, NAMLE, ISTE, Learning for Justice Digital Literacy Framework, Media Smarts, California Model School Library Standards, and NCSS C3 Framework. A process common to many of these standards is the IRAC process, which stands for Inquiry, Research, Analysis, Conclusion. Our gameplay is designed to take students through this process in each module.
Agents of Influence has four core games: Conversation, Research, Analysis, and Finale Duel.
You need to talk to someone, with the goal of either drawing information out of them or convincing them to accept information. But you must tread carefully: if you blow your cover the whole operation could come crashing down around you.
You navigate a conversation with another character, choosing options carefully to reach your goal. It costs “presence” (our term for your in-game health bar) to progress in the conversation, and if you reach zero presence the conversation is over. Your actions may trigger a negative “state” by using bad conversation practices, causing your interviewee to become defensive or suspicious. To get out of these states you’ll have to correctly identify which logical fallacies your interviewee is using against you.
Something is up on social media. Three profiles have been flagged for suspicious activity, but only one of them is a Harbinger agent. You need to do your research carefully to make sure you pursue the correct suspect.
In this game, you are presented with a series of social media posts. It’s your job to flag whether they’re accurate or misleading. You won’t always have enough information to know, so you can perform research. You’ll select what kind of search you want to do, with each representing a real-life search function of a web browser. Each research action brings down your presence (meant to represent “research fatigue”), but correctly identifying posts gains you back presence. You must also look out for impostor content, as an agent of Harbinger has used subtle tactics to impersonate real Virginia Hall students.
You need to get into the O.O.P.S. spy base tunnels. Unfortunately, they’re for authorized personnel only. To successfully hack the security system you have to correctly answer security questions to earn tokens, allowing you to build your chain of nodes towards one of the goals to reboot the system. However, there’s a catch: a virus in the system is chasing you down. If you don’t move fast enough the virus will overtake you before you reach your goal.
You start by reading an article presented by the system. The article is laden with traps that may lead you to form the wrong conclusions. The system then tests you with questions from several categories, such as Main Idea, Purpose, Author, Source, and Data Fallacies. Each time you correctly answer a question you earn another tile, which can be placed on the game board, revealing the path forward. But each time you make a mistake the virus moves a step closer.
You have managed to get to the bottom of Harbinger’s plan, but it is already in motion. A Sleepwalker is in the middle of carrying out their task, which will spread misinformation to innocents around the school and bring Harbinger closer to their ultimate goal. You have just enough time to save the day.
In the Duel game, you use skills developed in Conversation, Research and Analysis to fight the Sleepwalker for control of their mind. They have six memories, but half of them have been corrupted by misinformation and are now false. In front of you are evidence cards, which link to the memories. You perform research on the evidence cards to determine their trustworthiness, then play them on the correct memories to “wake up” the Sleepwalker and stop Harbinger’s plot. However, you put yourself in danger. For every false step you make, one of your memories is corrupted. This brings you closer to becoming a Sleepwalker yourself.