We are no strangers to the neighbourhood uncle dishing out the miracle cures he read about on WhatsApp. There is also that quintessential member of every family group who doles out “facts” by the hour through botched-up videos and forwards. Often enough, the said member has dubious sources of news consumption, and the messages are peppered with phrases like “Did you know?” and “Share it with 10 people”. They almost always have capital letters, incorrect spelling, and astounding arguments.
As the only journalist in our family group, I have always wished for a subtle yet firm method to urge them to fact-check their news. No number of links to fact-checking websites, however, have helped so far.
So, when we first heard of a game that aims to combat misinformation and fake news, we were intrigued. And knowing that it comes both in the form of playing cards and in a digital format, was doubly exciting.
Deciphering the Farzi
Named Farzi, the game is part of a series of games developed by journalist Abeer Kapoor. Kapoor had earlier developed a board game, The Poll (2018), that took the Indian democratic process on to a board to create an argumentative game. Vernacular versions of it are still being added to the repertoire.
The current single series of games are set in Antarjaal Nagar aka the internet; each deals with a specific aspect. While Farzi tackles fake news, It’s In The Water follows a journalist uncovering a scam to focus on freedom of speech, Kritika is about protecting female activists online, and Kartik is for queer experiences online with its focus on catfishing and digital security. Like The Poll, they have all been funded by the Freidrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom.
The game test
We decided to put both versions of Farzi to the test. A bunch of friends gathered at the mere mention of a “drinking game”. The game play is simple, not really much of a challenge even if you start the game midway through the drinking binge.
You pick a card from the deck, point to someone in the circle and read out the “fact” written on it. The person responds with “true” or “false”. If they get it right, the next person takes a turn and if they get it wrong, they drink. A few special cards work as lifelines, allowing you to Google or forward the message to a friend. We encountered none in an hour of game play.
The cards don’t explicitly mention if the news is true or false. If there is a fact section below the news item, it’s false; if not, consider it true. There are also those that are partially true and well, can be considered false. The same would hold for news you decided to forward on WhatsApp.
It took a bit for us four players to get the hang of it. Let’s be clear, there wasn’t so much drinking involved once the game began. It did, however, manage to do what it set out to— bring the fake news conversation into the living room. And we could well imagine the game with a group of people bitten by the WhatsApp forward bug turning into a drunken rager.
The digital game
Easy to download on the Play Store, the digital version uses Tinder-esque game play. You swipe right to “forward” the news item and left to discard it. You receive a tally after a round that tells you what percentage of right answers you managed and whether you are contributing to the spread of fake news. “There is a certain mindlessness to WhatsApp forwards and that’s why the Tinder-like swipe approach,” says Kapoor.
There is a Q&A and Quiz show format. The latter allows you to choose from categories like Gender, Climate Change and Foreign Policy. Kapoor tells us that their research revealed fake news often operates in these categories and is a more structured process than we might imagine. “Ultimately, fake news is a manifestation of vested interests. For instance, in the field of gender you will find a lot of fake news that attacks women’s bodies. And climate change, where there is vested interest, is also prone to fake news. We started mapping these patterns”. When it comes to the quiz show format, he says quizzing is gratifying and “a society that quizzes together, critically thinks together”.
Farzi’s digital version is more gratifying and addictive than the card game, which can get a bit verbose for Uno players.
Kapoor and his team have been taking the game to media colleges between July and December 2021 in tier 2 and 3 cities, equipping students who are at the receiving end of fake news with the tools and language to talk about it.
The question of replaying
We asked the one question that was top of the mind for those of us who were playing. Once we have read a fact, it stays with us. Does that make the game a one-time affair?
Kapoor believes that its social function then takes over. “Replayability has a lot to do with mastery and skill. Besides, you will want to play with a different set of people and share the game with your friends,” he says. We aren’t entirely convinced but it’s going to take us some time to get through the existing deck.
Farzi the card game will be available in February, on Amazon. Download the digital game for free here.
Prachi Sibal is a Mumbai-based writer