Fake news destroyed this fun Christmas game in the late 90's

NVision Design's Elf Bowling was a viral game in 1999 but was brought down by fake news.

These days, the popularity of a mobile game can be gauged by the number of downloads on the PlayStore or the App Store. However, back in the 90’s, the world of digital entertainment functioned a bit differently. There were no app stores or depositories for mobile games; there were no smartphones — all people had were big blocks of white plastics with large silicon boards inside. Windows was the de-facto platform for all the computing needs and current multimedia platforms hadn’t been written yet. Therefore, in 1999, a simple Internet game went viral through the then-one-of-the-world’s fastest communication media — Email.

Elf Bowling was shared massively amongst the computer-using crowd through email in the late 90’s. The game weighed only 1 MB in size and could be easily shared to contacts as a Windows executable file. At that time, receiving a .exe file was pretty normal, unlike today where such a file is immediately judged as a malicious file. The game was very simple to play, which required people to knock down some mischievous elves with their Santa.

However, the game’s glory was short-lived. In the latter part of 1999, people around the world started receiving messages similar to this — “If you have received Elf Bowling or Frogapult games that have been circulating the internet, or know anyone who has, they MUST BE DELETED before Christmas day. THEY CONTAIN VIRUSES THAT ARE SET TO GO OFF ON CHRISTMAS DAY AND WILL DELETE YOUR HARD DRIVE.”

When the game was examined by cybersecurity experts, the only malware they found in it was that it randomly ping servers around the world any time it figured fine. Therefore, it was simply a hoax created to bring down the popularity of the game. And since the developer never published a privacy policy to protect users, they couldn’t do anything either. However, the game was merely an advertorial campaign for the developer to showcase their talent instead of making profits.

What this incident from the past shows that the problem of fake news persisted even before social media came into existence. These days, a fake news post can be immediately detected by a dedicated team sitting miles away, thanks to the boom in the IT industry. However, the developers of Elf Bowling didn’t have any control over the situation back then as it was and still is difficult to track malicious emails.

This incident teaches us two things — emails are the preferred choice for spreading malware, bypassing several security solutions. The second point is that users need to understand, think and verify the authenticity of the source before they react to a particular news.

With inputs from Motherboard


Next Story