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Russia caught using mobile game screenshots to interfere with US politics

The best kind of propaganda is lazy propaganda.

The Russian Defense Ministry released images from November 9th, which apparently showed a drone’s eye view of US Forces helping to lead three ISIS trucks into Eastern Syria. The image had the potential to start global controversy with enormous backlash against America both from other global powers and its own citizens. However, the image was a fake, taken from screenshots of an air combat simulator, AC-130 Gunship Simulator: Special Ops Squadron, which was released for mobile devices in 2015.

In fact, there’s still footage of the game on YouTube and anyone can still buy the app on the app store today (where it is now apparently free for a limited time). The game is marketed as a “visually stunning take on modern warfare” where you can “rain death from the skies.” It is not, however, advertised as an instrument of the Russian propaganda machine. The US has responded to the video by saying that the screenshots represent “just one more episode of a recurrent pattern of defamation, distortion, distraction that seeks to discredit the U.S. and [America’s] successful coalition fight against ISIS in Syria.”

Though this certainly has large implications for the world of politics, it also exposes an interesting development for the video game community. Though games can market themselves as looking photo-realistic, there is still an uncanny valley that exists between in-game elements and the real-world objects and organisms they imitate. Games continue to look more and more realistic and indeed, many in-game environments and landscapes are achieving such a high level of detail that it’s sometimes difficult to determine real photos of scenery from game screenshots of the same subject.

It is reasonable to assume then, that games will continue to get even more realistic, and if that happens, it might be harder to distinguish between what’s real and what’s fake. If one of the most powerful countries in the world thought that they could pass off a lie with the aid of a video screenshot from a two-year-old mobile game, who’s to say that the spread of misinformation via video games and animation could stop there? There’s certainly potential for abuse of photorealistic environments as individuals could, in theory, manipulate the world the way they want it to be seen, and pass that false image as truth. Now it seems comical that Russia used screenshots from a war game as a form of propaganda, but it may not seem so harmless in the future, should they or any other nation utilize advanced graphics to confuse the very notion of what is fact and what is fiction. If this happens and we can no longer trust visual information and recorded events, it could potentially have catastrophic implications for the way we get our news and how much skepticism we must employ on a daily basis.

[Source: Washington Post]

Written by Mitchell Sturhann

Mitchell is a junior Screenwriting major at Chapman University who loves to read, write, or watch anything from either the screen or written page. He is lead editor for the school’s honors journal, Sapere Aude, and is one of the founding members and writers of Chapman Sketch Comedy.

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