Fun & Games

Can a New Portland Game Fight Fake News?

Theory Gang’s Werk wants its players to think.

By Shayla Norris-York March 26, 2019 Published in the April 2019 issue of Portland Monthly

How would you draw a picture combining Soren Kierkegaard and the disputed Hockey Stick global warming graph? Or write a story about Bob Ross’s obsession with trees and also incorporate Brexit?

This is Werk, a new Portland-born game intended to exercise players’ critical thinking skills—and battle fake news. The game, the brainchild of a pair of local scientists working under the name Theory Gang, raised $8,500 on Kickstarter in November 2018. Now, it’s set to intrigue—and confound—potential players on
Amazon by May 11.

A sample card from Werk

“The most important way Werk combats the post-truth area is through human connection,” says Natasha Mott, a former OHSU postdoctoral fellow who founded Theory Gang with fellow neuroscientist Denesa Lockwood. “Fake news isn’t about facts—it’s about feeling. Having live discussions with folks you trust and love is the best way to open hearts and minds.”

How does it work? Think Cards Against Humanity but with writing, drawing, and diagram analysis. One player—the “DickTater”—flips over a card, showing it to the other players. The card might show the scientific concept of Avogadro’s constant, Carl Sagan’s book The Demon-Haunted World, or, say, Kanye West. Next, each person selects a coordinating caption from their own cards and the DickTater picks the best, funniest, or most interesting combo. Then, everyone has to draw a picture or write a story about the two cards. Players vote on the winner, and the next round begins.

“I want to get people talking about things they don’t normally—inoculate people with information,” Mott says. “I mean, climate change and witch hunts, how do you take those two [concepts] and flex your creativity? My favorite part is when people play the game, [get a card] and go, ‘What the hell is that?’”

Unlike Cards Against Humanity, the game’s point isn’t just to shock players into laughter with un-PC card combinations. Werk’s game cards also include real-world statistics and charts designed to make you think. Perhaps you’re wary of genetically modified organisms? Werk includes a graph card that contrasts the general public’s GMO suspicions with actual research by scientists.

“There’s some very contentious stuff in here,” Mott says. By way of example, she gestured to a Werk card with a drawing of Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un fighting over missiles. “We reached out to get signed off by leading academics.”

For a city full of intellectual types looking to put their book-learning to use, it might just be a perfect fit.

“Anyone who knows the Drake equation and Drake the performing artist—that’s my target market.

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