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Stop & Think: Teaching Players About Media Manipulation in 'Headliner'

Jakub Kasztalski (Founder & Creative Director, Unbound Creations LLC)

Pass Type: All Access Pass, Core+Summits Pass, Core Pass - Get your pass now!

Topic: Design

Format: Session

Vault Recording: TBD

Audience Level: Intermediate

Most games are designed to be fun and engaging, to keep the players playing. But at Unbound Creations, our goal is different. We want our players to stop, and reflect on their actions. This talk will use concrete examples from our award-winning games to show how we teach players about ethics through play, encourage critical thinking about media and fake-news, and make polarizing social/political issues humanely relatable.

In “Headliner: NoviNews” you play as chief editor of the national news, deciding what articles get published every day. You watch as the world around you lives of several main characters gradually change. From the start, the game was designed to make players question their choices and become more critical of media. I will explain how we achieved that.

Early in pre-development, we mined Google and Facebook data to find topics that are the most important and relatable to our target audience. We made issues relatable through personal struggles of in-game characters. We have also done the research to represent both sides of complex arguments fairly, based on actual rhetoric used in media. Our simple design principles led to complex series of trade-offs and moral dilemmas with no clear win or lose conditions. Lastly, we used gameplay mechanics to encourage (but not force) our players to organically engage in media-manipulation techniques, thus teaching players to recognize them in the real world.


Attendees will learn how to use Google/Facebook to find issues important to a target audience, how to humanize them through personal struggles of in-game characters, and how to fairly represent both sides of complex arguments. They will also leave with a simple design framework for creating complex trade-offs.

Intended Audience

This talk is intended for designers and writers who want to create "morally-gray" stories that pose difficult questions to players and help them come to organic conclusions. It would also be useful for social-impact / social commentary games and educators interested in using games as teaching tools.