Cranky Uncle game takes on climate crisis denial and fake news
App equips players with skills to identify misinformation in real world and online
A new game promises to act as a vaccination against climate crisis denial and fake news by teaching users about misinformation tactics.
The Cranky Uncle app explains common science denial techniques, such as the use of fake experts, logical fallacies, impossible expectations and cherry-picking data, equipping users with the skills needed to spot inaccuracies in the real world and online.
The app is based on inoculation theory, the idea that people can be protected against influence by exposure to weakened forms of a threat in this case, climate crisis denial.
The idea for the app was conceived by John Cook, research assistant professor at the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University, who said: This game has the potential to inoculate a generation against misinformation. But its such a big problem, how do we meet the size of the challenge? Technology and gamification is a really powerful tool in being able to do that.
In the game, users navigate a series of cartoon scenarios that explain how different tactics are employed, before answering quiz questions to test their knowledge. In one scene, used to demonstrate the use of anecdotal arguments, Cranky Uncle is seen shivering in the cold proclaiming that global warming doesnt exist, and then standing at night saying the sun doesnt exist.
The app prototype has been trialled in community colleges and universities, and Cook says that after only 30 minutes of gameplay, critical thinking among users was improved.
Cook, who also founded the popular climate blog Skeptical Science, envisions the game being effective in schools and universities, and also among those, particularly in the US, who are alarmed about the climate emergency but do not feel comfortable talking about it. We need people talking about [the climate crisis] and building social momentum, he said. The reason why people dont talk about it is because theyre worried about pushback, and theyre not sure what to say. So this game empowers people to feel confident talking about the issue because they understand the arguments better and they know how to respond.
A poll this year found that the US is one of the worst countries in the world for climate change denial, with 13% of Americans believing that human activity is not responsible for the changing climate.
The Cranky Uncle cartoon character was drawn by Cook, who previously worked as a cartoonist for a decade. I have a cranky uncle and we all seem to have that opinionated uncle or father in the family, but theres also research into the characteristics of people who deny climate change, and statistically theyre more likely to be male, older, white, conservative.
The project was partly inspired by the work of the social psychologist Sander van der Linden who helped create the Bad News game to teach people how to identify fake news. I realised that the tools of gamification that Sander was exploring were very applicable to the logical fallacy framework that I was working with, said Cook.