Bohemia Interactive, the Czech Republic based developer of the military simulator game Arma 3, has published a blog and a video it hopes will help it with a unique problem. Footage from the video game known for its realism has gone viral several times since the game's release in 2013 as people have tried to pass off clips of the military simulation as footage of real war.
This happens a lot, so often that there are multiple debunking stories on Reuters and the Associated Press specifically about debunking viral clips of war footage. Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, the problem has gotten much worse. The invasion is the largest ground war in Europe in a generation and people around the world gobble up every scrap of information they can. Pranksters and fraudsters have taken to uploading clips from Arma 3 to capitalize on that need for information.
Arma 3 is a hyper realistic military simulation and sandbox. It’s meant to be a realistic modeling of real world conflict. It’s even teamed up with the International Committee of the Red Cross to release DLC that details the after effects of armed conflict. A sister studio, Bohemia Interactive Simulations, broke from the company in 2013 and makes simulations for the Pentagon using similar technology. The game is also a sandbox with a vibrant modding scene (PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds began its life as an Arma 3 mod) that allows players to customize the game however they want.
That devotion to realism and open platform has made Arma 3 the perfect platform to use to create fake war footage. "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,” Pavel Křižka, PR Manager of Bohemia Interactive, said in a November 28 press release. “It has happened in the past (Arma 3 videos allegedly depicted conflicts in Afghanistan, Syria, Palestine, and even between India and Pakistan), but nowadays this content has gained traction in regard to the current conflict in Ukraine.”
One of the most famous Arma 3 mixups came in 2013 when a Russian TV station aired footage from the game and claimed it was from the war in Syria. In 2011, the BBC aired footage of Arma 2 as part of a documentary about the IRA.
Footage from the game of a MiG-29 jet facing off against a counter-rocket, artillery, mortar (C-RAM) system has been used in several different viral clips, both to show the wars in Afghanistan and Ukraine.
A video uploaded on May 7, 2022 to YouTube shows the birds-eye view of Ukrainian Bayraktar drone as it fired on Russian warships in the Black Sea. An edited version of the clip ended up on Facebook and was passed off as real war footage. It gained tens of thousands of views before Facebook removed it.
Another clip from a different Youtuber uploaded in July showed off NLAW anti-tank missiles destroying two Russian tanks. The video is clearly labeled as a simulation, but it was pulled off of YouTube, cut, uploaded to Twitter, and passed off as real footage of the war in Ukraine.
These are just a few examples, there are dozens more. The life cycle is almost always the same. An Arma 3 nerd uploads something to YouTube and other people pull the video, edit it to make it look more realistic, then pass it off as actual footage of the conflict. The footage goes viral then the fact-checkers come in and tell everyone it’s a video game. Bohemia Interactive issues a statement and then everyone waits for the next fake to come along.
“We've been trying to fight against such content by flagging these videos to platform providers (FB, YT, TW, IG etc.), but it's very ineffective,” Křižka said in the press release. “With every video taken down, ten more are uploaded each day. 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.”
Bohemia Interactive’s post included a list of tells meant to help people tell when the footage they’re seeing is fake and taken from a video game. Fake videos tend to have a low resolution, a shaky camera, and take place at night. They’re often without sound, don’t feature people in motion, and sometimes still include the HUD elements from the video game. There’s typically unnatural particle effects, unrealistic vehicles, uniforms, and equipment.
Lastly, Bohemia Interactive thanked its fans for calling out bullshit when they saw it. “We have seen many Arma players pointing out mistakenly identified footage, which helps viewers understand what they’re seeing,” it said. “Thank you for helping!”