Misinformation and Disinformation in Online Games: An Exploratory Investigation of Possible Cues


From election meddling to #fakenews to that “truther” meme shared by your Uncle Vernon on Facebook, we’re inundated with misinformation and disinformation daily, but may struggle to perceive cues to misinformation and disinformation, especially in online environments. Online games, like other online environments, are rife with rumors and speculation. Online games, however, provide a bounded space, separate from the noise of reality, within which places, tools, and individuals’ constructions of meanings may influence the perception of possible cues to misinformation (mistaken information) and to disinformation (deceptive information) with limited risk in the event of failure to perceive such cues. Unique relative to other online environments, online gamers rely upon their teammates to aid in the perception and judgement of possible cues. This dissertation work leveraged Interpersonal Deception Theory, Information Grounds, Activity Theory, and Symbolic Interactionism to investigate how places, tools, and individuals’ constructions of meanings might influence their perceptions of possible cues to misinformation and disinformation in an online game, Star Wars: The Old Republic (SWTOR). Methods included 40 weeks of exploratory fieldwork, 70 weeks of participant observation, 180 minutes of naturalistic observation, collection of 72 online artifacts, and 30-90 minute semi-structured interviews with seven players. Possible cues to misinformation included other players’ lack of knowledge, timing, technological artifacts – a novel cue, and personal disagreement. Possible cues to disinformation included other players’ lack of evidence, participants’ negative experiences – a novel cue, other players’ success, avatar metadata – a novel cue, information omission, vagueness, improbability, and indirect information. Places influenced perceptions of possible cues when places insufficiently met participants’ needs for sociality and information. Participants’ game information management tools influenced cue perception through their affordances and limitations. Individuals’ constructions of meanings influenced cue perception through participants’ social and information curation actions. Implications illuminate possibilities for game design, misinformation as user engagement tool, and disinformation as information management tool. Future work discusses cue investigation, the role of teams in cue perception, the role of deception within Information Grounds and Activity Theory, the potential for Symbolic Interactionism in information behavior and information literacy, and the cultural and social impact of misinformation and disinformation research.