The revolt in Syria.The cuts in public spending.The reconstruction of Haiti.All important issues transformed into videogames, to allow
readers-users to become more involved in the news.Some big communications companies are trying. Here’s how: a protester holds up a sign with “Assad, resign” written on it; a tank fires at him and the protest ends with a dead man lying in the dust. Up until the next round because this is a newsgame, a product to be used via the Web which mixes entertainment and recreational elements with references to current news.To educate, inform and involve the player, in a more engaging and interactive way than is possible with a normal journalistic investigation.
They can be simple animations in Flash format, such as “Syrian Revolt”, or much more ambitious projects such as “Inside Disaster” dedicated to the earthquake that devastated Haiti, where with a simulation composed by original movies, you can become an aid worker, a reporter or a survivor to relive the tragedy in a virtual manner.
The category, whose various facets have been described last year in a book written by MIT, “
” includes not only games in the strict sense, but also interactive infographics and puzzles proposed by newspapers like ‘The Guardian’ and the ‘New York Times’.It is the Anglo-Saxon world of journalism that is experimenting this kind of action, supporting and completing the news given by the reporter or editorial director with some kind of infotainment.
The example of greater success is “The world at seven billion”, a kind of interactive quiz produced by BBC that gives the reader the chance to delve into the topic of demographic expansion allowing him to understand where he/she lies in the great cycle of births:how many people came into this world before and after him and what is the demographic balance in his country.The quiz, according to data collected by Journalism.co.uk, was the “history” most commented and shared on Facebook from the internauts of the United Kingdom in 2011 and finished in fourth place among popular quizzes placed on Twitter.
In the US, an interesting case is that of “Fix the deficit,” a puzzle proposed by the ‘New York Times’ in which the player must try to balance between spending cuts and tax increases, to ensure essential services to fellow countrymen without overrunning the accounts.A concept very similar to that of ‘Budget Hero’, a newsgame produced by American Public Media public radio.
And in Italy? “In our country this is not an easy thing to create:the newsgames cost more than a simple video game and require skills that are more difficult to find, together with an unconventional vision of information”, explains Paolo Pedercini, Molleindustria’s heart and soul, group of independent game developers. “It is not by pure chance that newsgames are tested by giants such as the ‘New York Times’, ‘Wired’ or BBC, who seek to compete in quality with the challenges of the digital information era”, continues Pedercini.
Also in Italy there was an attempt to introduce games dedicated to Italian current events:and the ‘Espresso’ site did it with a few games regarding such events as the Rubygate, the former Director of Tg1, Augusto Minzolini or with the world homophobia championships game.
And even Molleindustria has tried to do something:like Leaky World, one of its latest games, defined by the authors as “an interactive interpretation of the paper entitled “Conspirancy as governance” by Julian Assange, where the head of Wikileaks theorizes the total transparency as the strategy to revolutionize, at best, society”. In the past, the same Molleindustria has produced other highly controversial newsgames such as “Faith Fighter”, a parody of the hatred between believers (the slogan is “choose your belief and bust the ass of those who do not think like you”) designed to make players reflect upon how religions are often used to feed the conflicts between nations, or “Operation Pedopriest”, about the scandal of pedophile priests.
But don’t you run the risk of trivializing delicate and controversial issues with these newsgames? “It’s possible.” states Pedercini, “but trivializations, simplifications and distortions constantly occur in journalism. I do not think we have a lot to lose.”
This article first appeared on l’Espresso online
- NewsGame: What about a journalism game that yields real news stories? (nextlevelofnews.com)
- The McDonalds sim and September 12: what does it mean for a videogame to be political? (newstatesman.com)
- The Future of Journalism – It’s Time to Pick a Side (pandodaily.com)