It’s definitely not your typical American high school – not the one in “Agents of Influence.” But high school is the backdrop, which is smart for a media literacy videogame aimed at middle schoolers, right?
Especially a sketchy, slightly dystopian fictional one like “Virginia Hall High,” in which the game is set. First, the school occupies what used to be the HQ of “the Omni-Directional Organization for Propaganda Surveillance (O.O.P.S.), a defunct Cold War-era spy agency.” Next, the player, an incoming freshman, “quickly learns things are not as they seem: the campus is full of misinformation schemes, students have been disappearing, and there is some strange activity in the old O.O.P.S. tunnels underground. Worst of all,” the game’s creators continue in their description, “a shadowy organization by the name of Harbinger seems to be behind it all.”
“You [the freshman] join forces with Taylor Jones, a brilliant outcast senior, to create the Agents of Influence, a spy group dedicated to stopping Harbinger’s [disinformation] schemes of turning students into ‘Sleepwalkers’ and saving the school.”
The game’s Kickstarter campaign launched today and – as a huge fan of compelling media literacy education – I encourage you to check it out.
The creators are the founding team at the Los Angeles-based startup Alterea Inc. (“yes, it’s a play on “alternate reality,” according to Authority magazine in an interview with co-founder Anahita Dalmia).
What the game’s like
For media literacy and middle school educators, as well as parents, here’s a little more about the game: It’s designed to immerse students in the practice of questioning and determining the trustworthiness of information, teaching them how an “agent of influence” operates in a world of 24/7/365, hyper-fast, everywhere media – which certainly includes how to be a smart information consumer online and offline.
What’s available now via the Kickstarter campaign is “Cyber Danger,” a module of four episodes, each about 30 min. long. I’m told they teach students about “algorithms, data collection and tracking, echo chambers, data fallacies,” etc. while, as “agents,” they engage in “research, document analysis, and conversations.” The creators plan to offer a total of four modules eventually (“8+ hours total gameplay”) which “will include content on political bias, pseudoscience and advertisements.”
Agents for today’s literacy, citizenship
The game’s name comes from a Cold War term the creators say they’re “reclaiming,” saying “agents of influence” were “spies sent to foreign countries to influence foreign policy” (here’s Wikipedia on this). [There are books of this title by Russell Hamilton (2014), Henry Hemming (2019), Aaron Edwards (2021) and Andrew Watts (forthcoming) and variations of it by others.]
“We want our players to be ‘agents of influence’ in the sense that they have agency (ability to make informed decisions) and influence (impact on others and the game world), both of which are essential to being informed and empowered citizens,” they write. I wish them success, because I want every pre-secondary student everywhere to be this kind of agent of influence!
- The “Agents of Influence” game’s Kickstarter campaign, which launched today
- About Alterea
- Interviews with co-founder Anahita Dalmia at Authority magazine and Thrive Global
- Don’t miss the great (virtual) events of Media Literacy Week 2021, Oct. 25-29! MLW is hosted by the National Association for Media Literacy Education next month. [Disclosure: I serve on NAMLE’s board of directors.]