Speculate Spectacle:
Gaming Environments for News Consumption

Speculate Spectacle is a prototypical video game that extracts and spatializes the content from news articles to create an interactive environment where users can perceive biased reporting. News media and public space are alike in their ability to increase social cohesion—both are instruments that describe and shape collectives. Recently, the proliferation of digital platforms for consuming content has made news even more indistinguishable from entertainment—an experience of information referred to as “infotainment”—and has further siloed users into their own ideological bubbles. By 2030, a different spatial medium will be necessary to broker data and make explicit its (un)reliability. This thesis sees gaming technology—specifically, its unique ability to intermix spatio-temporal habits from across material worlds—as a means to debunk and critically engage mediascapes.

News audiences tend to be more receptive to spectacle over facts: sensational headlines, catchy soundbites, provocative imagery, and exaggerated claims. This is evident in the popularity of game shows, satirical television programs, and 24-hour cable channels that draw amusement from current events. In exchange, however, people must navigate a misinformation minefield.

Leveraging the public’s growing gaming literacy, this thesis develops a first-person video game to interrogate the power behind infotainment. The prototype features a series of apparatuses and landscapes inside a giant crater that react to the presence of media bias practices, including clickbait, astroturfing, and propaganda laundering. In the future, users come to this virtual space to read the news and import articles for the software to analyze. The apparatuses and other elements translate data from the article into material effects that correspond to the source’s degree of partiality. Techno-detritus fills the rest of the scene, reminding players of a yesteryear with nonpartisan network newscasts and fewer media outlets. The game returns better-informed subjects to the public sphere, able to better comprehend manipulated data.

Faculty Advisor:
Cyrus Peñarroyo