Can Post-Truth Fight Post-Truth?

While watching Get Me Roger Stone and reading “What is Post-Truth?”, what initially stood out to me was how much structural overlap there seems to be between ARGs and the falsehoods constructed by the far right. Roger Stone was almost like a gamemaker (puppet master?) in how he took joy in news manipulation, almost treating it as a form of play. Of course, the intentions of ARGs and post-truth are very different, but both have an interest in blurring the lines between fiction and reality, as well as somewhat of a disregard for the very notion of truth. Post-truth relies on the idea that there’s a truth in how people feel and act, with Gingrich saying, “As a political candidate, I’ll go with how people feel and let you go with the theoreticians” (McIntyre 4). And ARGs, I think, rest on a similar idea: There’s truth created when players feel and participate, and those feelings, based on an alternate truth, are meaningful and real.

I don’t think these similarities mean that ARGs are somehow complicit in post-truth: Again, they have very different intentions, and McIntyre even points out how postmodern questions about truth predate the current post-truth movement (6). But the similarities do make me wonder whether ARGs, or movements similar to them, can be used as a tool in fighting post-truth. I think McIntyre would be doubtful. He writes that the “issue… is not to learn how to adjust to living in a world in which facts do not matter, but instead to stand up for the notion of truth” (154). And in that framework, I’m not sure ARGs as the most effective tool.

The interview with Massumi, however, suggests a way in which ARGs could fight post-truth. He argues that “alternative political action does not have to fight against the idea that power has become affective, but rather has to learn to function on that same level – meet affective modulation with affective modulation” (234). I think I lean more towards that way of thinking. In recent years, many of the forms of political resistance that I’ve thought most effective fit Massumi’s suggestion of “a performative, theatrical, or aesthetic approach to politics” (234). For example, YouTuber and philosopher ContraPoints makes videos responding to alt-right claims that are intensely theatrical, with costumes and characters, while also being factual and well-researched. And working more in this vein of political engagement, I think ARGs could be effective, especially because they in so many ways fit with Massumi’s ideas of affect. His descriptions of the “depth and breadth of our experiencing” and of “embodied” participation (214) both seem in line with the experience of playing an ARG and the attitude that such gameplay encourages.

I’d be interested in looking at the specifics of how such an ARG could interact with post-truth, and in whether others think it’s possible, or advisable.

6 thoughts on “Can Post-Truth Fight Post-Truth?

  1. Your question about whether ARGs can be an effective tool for fighting post-truth is really interesting. In part, ARGs are definitely about a kind of mixing of reality and fiction, as you note, which can obscure facts or hide them beneath a kind of narrative. Some things might just be fully created. However, I wonder if the process of an ARG – solving clues, evaluating information, and reaching conclusions, could be useful for fighting post-truth? Since the narrative of ARGs do in a sense revolve around player’s reaching a sort of truth – what does this clue mean? where are we meant to go? how is the information we got a bit suspect? In this way, I see a lot of potential in the process of playing.

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    1. I think that while ARGs do imbue a sense of truth-finding in terms of searching for clues and questioning everything, the decisions and actions of game players are ultimately under the control of the puppet master, who is able to manipulate affect and attitudes through plot twists, rabbit holes, etc. I almost feel like with ARGs, players may feel like they have the guise of control in searching for ultimate truth when they really do not. I feel that this is very similar to our American politics system, where we live in a society where we are constantly looking for an “objective” truth, but in doing so, have to find “objective” sources made by puppet masters–and therein lies the fallacy. I guess what I am trying to say that ARGs do develop a sort of methodology for ultimate truth-finding, but I would be hesitant to say that this is an ultimately effective way to fight post-truth.

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  2. I second what Riss says regarding the ability for an alternate reality game to teach critical thinking processes that would train individuals to be discriminatory when it comes to processing received information. This has been a skill that corporations (and other similar entities) rely on being underdeveloped, specifically when it comes to advertising the presentation of statistics. One could of course, design a game geared specifically towards developing critical thinking skills that help defend against and undermine cognitive irrationalities and biases. I do, going back to your original point, also (tentatively) believe that post-truth can and perhaps should be used to combat post-truth. I do not believe that ARGs are the appropriate vehicle for conveying alternative facts, because those alternative facts will ultimately be revealed to be true after the experience is revealed as a “game.” I do however think that it would be both effective and ethical to leverage alternative facts towards diminishing the credibility of those who distribute alternative facts to deceive. Ultimately, the greater moral question isn’t whether it is ethical to lie, but rather whether it is or isn’t ethical to lie in order to maliciously deceive. Using alternative facts to undermine the credibility of malicious sources not only effectively targets their own target constituents but moreover constitutes a type of “white lie” ultimately directed towards the greater good.

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    1. Those are really interesting points. What I was thinking when writing about ARGs as a form of post-truth that could fight post-truth wasn’t so much in the sense of blatant lies or alternative facts, but more in their structure. I think they could be valuable because of how they encourage affect and engagement. So I definitely don’t think ARGs should promote alternative facts (beyond their narratives/worldbuilding), but I think they can direct feelings and affect in a meaningful way, sort of independent of the idea of truth.

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  3. Your ideas about ARGs as a tool for combating post truth intrigued me, particularly your discussion about the similarities between the two in their blurring of fiction and reality. I agree that ARGs can be a powerful tool for combating post-truth, but to me, it feels like this is due to a fundamental difference in the way the two deal with the intersection of fact and fiction. To me, it feels like post-truth attempts to deny reality and to replace it an alternative version that is narrowed to include only what is convenient to the beliefs and arguments of the individual wielding it, as exemplified by Gingrich’s assertion that “[Crime] is not down in the biggest cities” and his statement that “As a political candidate, I’ll go with how people feel and let you go with the theoreticians” (McIntyre 3). ARGs, on the other hand, do not attempt to confine or replace reality or truth, rather, they expand it. They create new spaces of possibility within reality and promote an engagement with the world that combats attempts to selectively ignore or deny inconvenient elements of reality, allowing them to serve as a tool against post-truth.

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  4. Nice to see a fellow ContraPoints viewer!

    I guess there’s a bit of danger to ARGs in priming people to find games or stories where some might not exist, for example conspiracy theorists and the moon landing or the earth being flat or what you will, but the inherent cooperation and problem-solving elements could prove useful in fighting figures like Roger Stone. Still, I have to agree with Gowri’s point that there’s the issue of ARGs being works of fiction controlled by someone, and putting it up against a third party based in reality is not always going to be successful.

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