WTF?! Footage of video games purporting to be real-life incidents, particular those from conflicts, is far from a new phenomenon. The practice has been increasing this year following the war in Ukraine, and it's often Arma 3 gameplay that's used as the fake footage. Now, developer Bohemia Interactive has addressed the circulation of these videos and explained how to tell real clips from fakes.
The Czech studio writes that the massive amount of user-generated content and mods, many of them of Russian and Ukrainian equipment, available for Arma 3 make it an ideal game for creating fake videos. "While it's flattering that Arma 3 simulates modern war conflicts in such a realistic way, we are certainly not pleased that it can be mistaken for real-life combat footage and used as war propaganda," said Pavel Křižka, PR Manager of Bohemia Interactive.
Křižka said footage from Arma 3 has been used as fake footage from Afghanistan, Syria, Palestine, and even between India and Pakistan. But it's been an especially popular method of creating clips claiming to be from the Ukraine/Russia war. They often go viral and are occasionally shown on legitimate media outlets that believe they're real.
A clip that circulated in October supposedly showing the Ukrainian military striking Russian Army tanks turned out to be Arma 3 footage. Part of the same clip was also used in a false claim from 2020 that alleged it was an American anti-aircraft weapon destroying an Iranian missile. There was also a case in 2018 when Russian TV showed an Arma 3 clip that it claimed was actual footage from the Syrian war (below).
Bohemia Interactive has tried flagging these videos to platform holders such as YouTube, but such actions often prove ineffective. "We found the best way to tackle this is to actively cooperate with leading media outlets and fact-checkers (such as AFP, Reuters, and others), who have better reach and the capacity to fight the spreading of fake news footage effectively."
The developer gave a series of tips on how to distinguish real footage from Arma 3 gameplay clips:
- Very low resolution
Even dated smartphones have the ability to provide videos in HD quality. Fake videos are usually of much lower quality, and are intentionally pixelated and blurry to hide the fact that they're taken from a video game.
- Shaky camera
To add dramatic effect, these videos are often not captured in-game. Authors film a computer screen with the game running in low quality and with an exaggerated camera shake.
- Often takes place in the dark / at night
The footage is often dark in order to hide the video game scene's insufficient level of detail.
- Mostly without sound
In-game sound effects are often distinguishable from reality.
- Doesn't feature people in motion
While the game can simulate the movement of military vehicles relatively realistically, capturing natural looking humans in motion is still very difficult, even for the most modern of games.
- Heads Up Display (HUD) elements visible
Sometimes the game's user interfaces, such as weapon selection, ammunition counters, vehicle status, in-game messages, etc. are visible. These commonly appear at the edges or in the corners of the footage.
- Unnatural particle effects
Even the most modern games have a problem with naturally depicting explosions, smoke, fire, and dust, as well as how they're affected by environmental conditions. Look for oddly separated cloudlets in particular.
- Unrealistic vehicles, uniforms, equipment
People with advanced military equipment knowledge can recognize the use of unrealistic military assets for a given conflict. For instance, in one widely spread fake video, the US air defense system C-RAM shoots down a US A-10 ground attack plane. Units can also display non-authentic insignias, camouflage, etc.
Křižka finished by asking Arma 3 players and content creators to be responsible with their game footage, such as explicitly stating that the footage they're posting comes from a video game.
Arma 3 isn't the only game used to fake real-life incidents. A Pakistani politician thought a GTA V video of a plane landing and narrowly missing an oil tanker on the runway was real in 2019. There was also the case of the Russian MoD insisting images from a mobile game were "irrefutable evidence" of the US helping ISIS in 2017.