US government funds propaganda video game aimed at kids – watchdog
The US State Department is funding a video game with an anti-populist message aimed at teaching kids to recognize “disinformation,” according to documents published by the Foundation for Freedom Online (FFO) on Thursday. The game, 'Cat Park', is being rolled out globally, with US embassies asking employees to push it through schools and community organizations.
In a memo sent on October 31 to all US diplomatic posts worldwide, the State Department encouraged staff to “promote,” “publicize,” and “organize special rollout events” for ‘Cat Park’, a game developed by a Dutch studio and funded by the State Department’s ‘Global Engagement Center’ (GEC).
The game demonstrates “how sensational headlines, memes, and manipulated media can be used to advance conspiracy theories and incite real-world violence,” read the memo, which was obtained by America First Legal and made public by the FFO.
Players take the role of a social media user leading a popular campaign against the construction of a park for cats, spinning conspiracies about the park being an elitist project for the city’s upper class. When it’s revealed that the campaign is covertly funded by a billionaire, players must then correct the “fake news” that they earlier spread on the sponsor’s behalf.
The memo states that ‘Cat Park’ draws on “inoculation theory” research by the University of Cambridge’s ‘Social Decision-Making Lab’. By virtually exposing players to “disinformation,” the game builds “cognitive resistance” to it “in the real world,” the State Department explained.
Research papers published by the Cambridge lab have explored techniques aimed at shutting down dissent on topics such as climate change and Covid-19, and “nudging” US conservatives into accepting liberal viewpoints.
‘Cat Park’ is the second game that the GEC has developed with US taxpayer money. ‘Harmony Square’, released after the US presidential election in 2020, sees players become “Chief Disinformation Officer,” stoking divisions in a neighborhood “obsessed with democracy.”
‘Harmony Square’ was promoted in British schools with the help of the UK Cabinet Office, and in Ukraine, Latvia, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia “as a strategic educational tool to counter disinformation,” the memo read.
Both games are designed to be deployed and redeployed as the US sees necessary. “In the lead-up to local elections, US missions…could encourage people to get their disinformation booster shot by playing [these games],” the documents stated.