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Video fakes on Ukraine: This is not a war, just a game


Again and again scenes are circulating on the internet that supposedly document the Ukraine war, but actually come from video games. A well-known manufacturer is now countering this with an educational video.

Anyone who has been on platforms such as Twitter, Facebook or TikTok since the beginning of the Ukraine war has probably already seen combat videos from Ukraine in their feed or timeline.

Some of these recordings are so fuzzy or shaky that not even military experts can always tell at first glance whether they are real - and whether they even come from Ukraine.

Many clips look like war somehow.

But what exactly it looks like in some Ukrainian suburbs and which combat vehicles might be found there is difficult to judge from the cell phone screen in Germany.

When war videos appear in the wrong context, sometimes it's a mistake.

Often, however, it is also about targeted disinformation or collecting clicks.

Because dramatic scenes that are not immediately exposed as fakes quickly cause a stir on the internet.

A typical way of getting videos suitable for deception at all is to work through and edit old recordings and play computer games with war scenarios.

Titles trimmed for realism, such as the popular »Arma 3« by the Czech developer team Bohemia Interactive, make it possible to create battle scenes yourself that you have never seen anywhere else.

At first glance, the approach of generating video fakes seems absurd: the graphics of games like "Arma 3", whose campaign is set in the near future of 2035, are good, but far from photorealistic.

But war videos rarely come in a glossy finish.

Sometimes it is the imperfection that leads to the fact that the clips can be considered amateur recordings, for example.

The creators of "Arma 3" have now explained in a blog post and in a YouTube video which tricks the uploaders of fake clips use based on their game.

In its blog post, the studio writes that scenes from its war simulation have not only been shared on social media, but also by traditional media and government institutions as supposedly authentic material from real wars.

The PR manager Pavel Křižka is flattered that »Arma 3« apparently simulates modern war conflicts in such a realistic way, he says.

"But of course we're not pleased that it can be confused with real combat footage and used as wartime propaganda."

The developers point out that there are now more than 20,000 fan-made expansions for their game alone, which allows players to "recreate any historical, current or future conflict down to the smallest detail".

Anyone who wants can create "completely new terrains, ground vehicles, aircraft, weapons, uniforms, equipment and scenarios" for "Arma 3".

Bohemia Interactive emphasizes that the problem of videos from the game being presented or perceived as real recordings has existed for a long time.

Before the Ukraine war, there were cases relating to the wars and conflicts in Afghanistan, Syria and Palestine, and even in the wake of tensions between India and Pakistan, gaming videos played a role.

Although the studio reports misleadingly used game clips on platforms such as Facebook, YouTube or Instagram, this is "very ineffective": "With every video that is removed, ten more are uploaded every day." The company is now working in the race We therefore prefer to work with leading media and fact-checkers, such as teams from the AFP and Reuters news agencies, for interpreting viral clips.

With their blog post and the accompanying video, the Czechs now want to give normal internet users clues as to how war clips from the »Arma 3« universe can possibly be debunked.

  • A first indication of a fake can therefore be a very low resolution.

    "Even outdated smartphones are able to deliver videos in HD quality," write the developers.

    "Fake videos tend to be much lower quality and intentionally pixelated and blurred to hide the fact that they're from a video game."

  • Another popular trick is not to record the videos in the game itself.

    Instead, the makers of such clips would often film a computer screen running the game "with exaggerated camera shake."

  • The whole thing can then also help to cover up the fact that the vehicles, uniforms and equipment that can be seen sometimes do not correspond to reality at all - which, of course, only people with military expertise quickly notice.

  • It is said that night scenes from the game are often used because the low level of detail is easier to hide here.

  • According to Bohemia Interactive, the sound from the game is often left out entirely because it can often be easily distinguished from the sound of real recordings.

  • It should also be typical of fake clips from "Arma 3" that no people are walking around.

    "While the game can simulate the movement of military vehicles fairly realistically, capturing natural-looking people in motion is very difficult for even the most modern games," the makers explain.

  • As a further indication of gaming content, so-called HUD elements are mentioned, which can sometimes still be seen at the edge of the videos, such as information displayed for the player on weapon selection or the status of a vehicle.

  • And then there are effects such as explosions, smoke, fire and dust and their impact on the environment.

    According to the developers, they can still be recognized as computer-generated to some extent today because they rarely appear natural.

    "Pay particular attention to strangely separated clouds," is advised in this context.

The Bohemia Interactive blog post concludes by asking everyone who plays or creates content for Arma 3 to use their game assets responsibly.

"If you pass on such material, please do not use clickbait video titles and always clearly state that the video is from a video game and does not reflect real events," the developers wish.

One can only hope that their appeal will be heeded - because there is already enough dubious video material on the net without all the clips from »Arma 3«.

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I wish you a fake-free rest of the week,

Markus Boehm

Source: spiegel

All tech articles on 2022-11-30

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