As more and more media is consumed on digital devices, the opportunity for video games in journalism continues to expand and redefine how readers interact with news. This week Nieman Reports published “Harnessing the Power of Video Games for Journalism,” an article written by Rose Eveleth, which focuses on how news outlets are using video games to enhance storytelling.
The article is quick to point out that games are all around us in the news realm. “Games are not new to journalism,” Eveleth writes. “Crossword puzzles have been a beloved part of newspapers for almost as long as there have been newspapers, and some of BuzzFeed’s most popular features are its quizzes and listicles, which can be substantive as well as trivial.”
As games become more popular, journalists are challenged with the task of integrating gaming into their storytelling. This task, Eveleth writes, can be both “time-consuming and expensive, taking resources away from other newsroom priorities.” Yet, journalistic outlets are realizing that the rise of gaming in our everyday lives cannot be ignored.
“Some journalism schools are integrating game design into their curricula, including the New Media Innovation and Entrepreneurship Lab … , Arizona State’s Center for Games and Impact, and Northeastern University’s School of Journalism’s Media Innovation Program, where one concentration is game design,” Eveleth writes.
Journalistic outlets seeking to expand their audience and connect with younger demographics are motivated by the many opportunities that video games present. Sustained reader interaction is at the top of this list.
Interestingly, many of the video games that news outlets have created aim to foster empathy in readers through an inclusive experience that takes the reader off the page (screen) and into the lives of others. For example, Propublica’s HeartSaver (2013), focuses on creating a connection and understanding between people with different access to medical care and facilities.
The game, as Eveleth explains, uses data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and initially set out to “let people plug in their addresses to find out how long it would take them to get to a hospital.” As the team further developed the idea, Sisi Wei, a journalist at ProPublica and one of the designers of HeartSaver, expanded the game’s goals by considering: “What can we do to help people understand the situation of folks who don’t live or work near them?”
In addition to eliciting empathy, games can also help readers develop a deeper understanding of a news story. In its virtual reality project, “The Displaced,” The New York Times offers readers a chance to move through the landscape of displaced refugees.
“For journalists, games offer compelling storytelling possibilities. They can simulate complex systems, where different choices create different outcomes,” Eveleth writes. “ They can create a sense of emotion and urgency in players. And they can connect people with experiences they may never have in actual life.”
Earlier this week, writers Josh Stearns and Luis Gomez published “The Best Online Journalism and Storytelling of 2015.” The comprehensive list, which features topics ranging from the race to science and the environment to immigration, includes a section on virtual reality media projects. Stearns and Gomez say 2015 marked “a tipping point in the adoption of virtual reality inside newsrooms.”
Like technology, journalism is constantly evolving. In today’s ever-changing news environment, video games may provide pockets of reflection and a deeper connection to stories that build empathy among communities.
ivoh Restorative Narrative Fellow Dan Archer is working on a journalistic virtual reality project, which you can read more about here.