The Disinformation Challenge: the power of game-based learning in strengthening media literacy

by Linas Skirius, Civil Resilience Initiative, Lithuania.

Modern threats call for modern combat methods, and tackling disinformation online requires the help of computer games. This is the strategy employed by the Civic Resilience Initiative (CRI), a Lithuanian NGO dedicated to enhancing media literacy skills among the young generation in Central and Eastern European societies.

The organisation places special emphasis on building critical thinking and information verification skills among Baltic youth, providing them with tools to combat disinformation encountered online. The primary means adopted to achieve this goal is engaging education. Interactive learning methods offer a more captivating platform for teaching and acquiring practical skills, better capturing the attention of the youth. Recognising the shortened attention spans of the new generation and aiming to provide an engaging platform for acquiring new skills, the organisation has explored the option of game-based learning, adopted in its recent initiative to strengthen disinformation recognition and combat skills of Baltic youth. These efforts have been supported by Google.

To achieve this goal, CRI, together with another Lithuanian non-profit specialising in game-based education, Three Cubes, developed The Disinformation Challenge. It is a free interactive computer game designed with exercises that encourage users to enhance their critical thinking skills and verify encountered information using open-source data. The game can serve as supplementary knowledge or be integrated into classroom settings to support curricula in subjects such as Civic Education or History. Game-based learning has been recognised as a very effective teaching tool due to its immediate appeal and engagement among students. The game builds project-based skills and allows students to work individually or collaboratively on problem-solving lessons. A platform similar to the popular computer game Minecraft has been selected for building a special exercise course, teaching students methods for information verification. The computer game platform allows creators to generate a specific educational space, where students can explore freely while educators can observe their progress or communicate through the platform if necessary.

The Disinformation Challenge takes place in a familiar environment – a high school – where students play themselves as game characters. The scenario includes students being summoned into the school auditorium where an impostor expert advocates increasing the number of final exams required to graduate high school. Students are encouraged to examine the expert’s arguments using open-source data and other information verification techniques to determine their validity. The game can be played individually or applied in school classes and controlled by a supervisor or teacher.

With support from Google, the game has been adapted to serve Baltic youth in their native languages, with an English version available for adaptation in other countries beyond the region. Given the increasing popularity of acquiring news about recent events on social media or using platforms as primary search engines, the young generation needs to be reminded of the dangers of spreading disinformation they may encounter. Especially since information on social media is rarely verified by reliable sources and only a small fraction of false information is reported. By introducing information verification and critical thinking skills through engaging game-based learning, we have an opportunity to cultivate useful habits for the ever-changing media landscape.

The Civic Resilience Initiative (CRI) is a Lithuanian non-profit, non governmental organization founded in 2018 in Vilnius, Lithuania by a group of experts based all around Europe. CRI focuses its activities on increasing the resilience of Lithuanian and other societies of the region through the means of engaging education.