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Calvinball

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Watching Layer Tennis last Friday, commentator John Gruber compared the competition to Calvinball, which brought me back to my childhood, reading the Sunday funnies. Remember Calvinball? In my book, it's the ultimate Nomic game -- a game in which the rules change and evolve as part of gameplay.

Back in April, I wrote about another Nomic game, 1000 Blank White Cards. 1KBWC (as it's, uh, less commonly known) is a card game in which players make up their own cards, which may implement new rules (like "you must hold 40 cards in order to win" or the less-fun "holder of THIS CARD wins"). Calvinball is similar, but a bit more active -- it is classically played outdoors -- and more devious: according to the official rules, section 1.2, new rules may be declared either audibly or silently. The other major difference is that Calvinball involves a ball (which, according to section 2.2, "may be a soccerball, volleyball, or any other reasonable or unreasonable, spherical or non-spherical object").

I think I'm a Calvinball fan because it's a game of wit, rather than one of physical prowess. (Also you get to wear a mask, and that sounds pretty fun.) I certainly had my share of childhood games which devolved into arguments over who shot whom, but of course we also displayed this Calvin-like behavior of devising new rules. That's what kids do. (I recall one particularly egregious example: during a Monopoly game I once declared, "I'm allowed to take $500 bills because I'm the banker. That's what banks do, they have lots of money.")

Prospective Calvinball players should consult the official rules, read the Wikipedia sub-entry on Calvinball (which is admirably full of citations), or learn more about Nomic.

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Bryn Dunbar
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Pop Culture
Can You Spot Fake News? A New Game Puts Your Knowledge to the Test
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Bryn Dunbar

In 2017, misinformation is easier than ever to access. During the 2016 election, scammers—including hordes of Macedonian teens—raked in serious money by churning out deliberately fake stories about U.S. politics, with a very real impact. In a December 2016 Pew Research Center survey, 64 percent of U.S. adults said that fabricated news was sowing "a great deal of confusion" about current events.

It can be hard to determine what’s real and what’s fake in the viral news world. A new game—expected to launch for iPhone on July 10—will test your skills. Fake News, designed by the creative agency ISL, asks players to distinguish between headlines found on true stories and headlines drawn from fake news sites (as determined by fact-checking sites like Snopes, Politifact, FactCheck.org).

The simple, arcade-style game for iPhone asks you to swipe left on fake headlines and swipe right on true ones. You have 100 seconds to sort through as many headlines as you can, competing for the highest score with other users. For instance, did Arby’s really get its name because “RB” is another way of saying roast beef? (No, RB stands for Raffel Brothers, the founders.) Does Jeff Goldblum really have a food truck named Chef Goldblum’s? (Kind of. It was a film promotion stunt.)

Fake News also exists as a physical arcade game. The creators installed a table-top arcade game in a D.C. bar on July 5, and may install it elsewhere depending on demand.

The game is harder than you’d expect, even if you think of yourself as fairly well-informed. As research has found, viral stories require two things: limited attention spans and a network already overwhelmed with information. In other words, our daily Internet lives. The more information we try to handle at one time, the more likely it is that we’ll fall for fake news.

Scientists found in a recent study that warning people that political groups try to spread misinformation about certain issues (like climate change) can help people sort through dubious claims. While that’s good to remember, it’s not always useful in real-life situations. It certainly won’t help you win this game.

One of the reasons Fake News is so hard, even if you keep abreast of everyday news, is that it doesn’t tell you where the headlines are from. Checking the source is often the easiest way to determine the veracity of a story—although it’s not a foolproof system.

Need help finding those sources? This Chrome plug-in will flag news from troublesome sources in your Facebook feed.

Update: The game is available for iOS here.

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What's the Kennection? #152
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