Fighting fake facts through play

In a world of fast information, with fake facts and fake news, we are all susceptible to narratives gone viral. We wanted to design a game to activate and sharpen the critical thinking skills necessary to survive the torrent of information and news we are faced with daily.

The World Economic Forum ranks the spread of misinformation and fake news as among the world’s top global crisis, and a 2019 study by the University of Baltimore found it costs the global economy $78 billion annually. We as citizens have a responsibility to weed out fact from fiction. Working against us though is the human tendency to believe any information repeated often, as our brains cognitively prefer processing shortcuts.

Luckily, our brains also love puzzles, problem solving and play. We created a game that combines the intrigue of conspiracies with fact based information.

What the skill does

When you say, "Alexa, open the Conspiracy Theory", you enter an escape room game of puzzles and clues built around a conspiratorial narrative. The first game of the series, Moon Landing, revolves around the space explorations spearheaded by the Russians and Americans in the 1950s-1960s.

Our story begins at a federal building where a tipster has informed you that the Apollo 11 moon landing tapes, missing for over 40 years, are hidden inside. You are an investigator who wants to recover and analyze these tapes. A security guard will let you in to the building, but the rest is up to you.

You can use commands like "inspect" and "look at" to explore the space while trying to complete your mission. This skill is designed for teens and adults, with a focus on reinforcing true information, with future customizable options to return to where the player left off and the ability to add more games following conspiracy scenario narratives.

How we built it

We combined conversation design with developer prowess to create this custom Alexa game skill using:

  • Alexa Conversations
  • Alexa Presentation Language (APL)
  • Alexa Presentation Language for Audio (APLA)
  • Speech Synthesis Markup Language (SSML)
  • Alexa Emotions
  • Audion assets: Original theme music was designed using Amper Music's artificial intelligence composer. Open sourced audio was sourced through Alexa Skills Kit Sound Library, NASA and other open banks.
  • Product management and communication: Trello and Slack
  • Dialogue scripting: Google Sheets, inspired by Hillary Black's script template
  • Flow design: Miro
  • Visual design: Figma
  • Video creation and editing: Filmora 9

Challenges we overcame

We faced a series of obstacles which we are proud to have solved together.

  • We are a six person team with members in three countries, four different time zones and working in two languages. Work was often started by one team member and completed by another, requiring excellent communication to avoid bottlenecks and duplication of work.
  • Our team had never worked together before and for the majority of the team this was their first voice project and first hackathon.
  • We worked with many new processes and tools, both on the design side and the developer side. Many of these processes are not documented by the larger community, requiring strong improvisation and recovery skills as we went along.
  • Alexa conversation is in beta so a lot of code needed to be created from scratch. Blogs with examples and information don't yet exist in English, and much less in Spanish, the language our developers work in. This added a double work load to our developers, as this project was limited to the US version of Alexa.
  • Conversation design tools such as Voiceflow and Botmock aren't yet able to be integrated with Alexa Conversations (beta) which meant we needed to recreate their functions with other design tools.
  • There were a large number of conspiracy theories that needed to be organized and investigated before choosing one and developing a natural flow of puzzles around it.

Accomplishments that we're proud of

We are very proud to have worked so well together as a team, and a very international team at that. We learned to use Alexa Conversations and improved on the developing and design side through the process. We followed a scrum methodology, with daily standups to make the deadline, working around different time zones where so many of us were "in the future". We finished our MVP with a very short turn around time and are excited to continue moving the game forward.

What's next for The Conspiracy Theory

Our future involves further developing the script and puzzles for the Moon Landing episode. In the short term we plan to:

  • Develop two additional rooms that are ready to be coded
  • Create a multimodal version, prototyping and testing images and texts throughout the game to make it accessible for the deaf community

And in the long term we would like to

  • Translate the game into Spanish
  • Explore using virtual reality for the images in the game
  • Develop future conspiracy based episodes

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