Journalists have been using games to tell stories since the early 2000s, but so-called news games, games that integrate journalism into the game, have yet to convince publishers to add them to their coverage. daily.
Instead, more typical digital news stories try to ape what makes the game so appealing and capable of capturing ever-large audiences – and revenue.
User experience and design researcher at BBC SoundsNick Donaldson, said: “Games have wins and losses, and that’s exactly what makes them so connected to your brain’s dopamine response.
“But this idea of clear victory and defeat is not easily transferable to the media world, so it’s harder to replicate. Instead, the metrics are emotional: what makes us laugh, what that makes us feel like we understand the world.”
The techniques first used to make games so compelling have begun to seep into the thinking behind news apps, Donaldson says.
The progress bar in a New York Times visual survey or the reward of being in the top 10 percent of readers on The Guardian site, for example, each shows the user that the next dopamine hit is just a few clicks away.
“We sprint to a finish line when it’s in sight,” Donaldson said. “That’s why you buy coffees faster when your loyalty card runs out.”
Donaldson warns that while publishers can learn from game design, pure gamification, turning an audience’s general motivations into easily understood and quantifiable goals, can degrade the journalism benefits a publisher is trying to convey.
Users are now more savvy when it comes to manipulation tactics and can be put off by the stress of maintaining a daily streak and the novelty of a new feature can quickly wear off, Donaldson explained.
“As a public service broadcaster (BBC), our job is not to maximize time spent but time well spent,” he added.
“Gamification is about creating habits, but that’s a very short-term solution. You can only really play the game long-term by creating a platform that meets their real goals, whether that’s ‘be better informed about the economy or discover their new favorite band.
“There are many tools that allow you to achieve this more sustainably than streaks or progress bars.”
Beyond the potentially superficial staples of most mobile games, publishers and journalists have recognized the opportunity to hone their visual storytelling from the games.
The New York Times led the charge with visual stories that often mimic point and click games or provide branching narratives depending on the reader’s interest.
The first news game was 2003’s “September 12”, in which players take control of a crosshair raised over a city miles below and tasked with killing terrorists by firing missiles.
Each terrorist moves through a crowd, so any attempt by the player also results in the death of civilians. It quickly becomes apparent that the only way to avoid collateral deaths is to not shoot at all.
“The Uber Game”created by the FinancialTimeswon the Excellence and Innovation in Visual Digital Storytelling gong at the 2018 Online Journalism Awards.
You play as a member of the sprawling fleet of Uber drivers who juggle ride fares, service your vehicle, and get home on time to help with your son’s homework.
More recently, “Testris” traces the history of the coronavirus pandemic across the world. You start by choosing a character and see the myriad ways lives have been affected based on social status and location.
The GuardianVisual Projects Editor David Blood, who was part of the team that created “The Uber Game”, said: “It seemed to allow the audience to identify with the Uber driver at the center of the narrative on a level personal.
“One of the key takeaways from this project is that this kind of identification – empathy, essentially – can be something that games are particularly good at creating.”
Games regularly induce empathy, according to the account of “That Dragon, Cancer” on come to terms with the death of a child to “Night in the Woods” telling of revisiting childhood anxieties – worthy but not exactly topical subjects.
Few games can keep pace with the stories they convey and despite the success of “The Uber Game”, Blood explains that games are unlikely to become a major part of daily journalism: “News games are very resource-intensive to produce. journalists, designers, developers, publishers and others.
“Then there is the question of the news agenda: if it takes a month or two months to produce a news game, will it still have sufficient journalistic value at the time of publication? “
At a time when almost every news publisher is feeling the pressure, Blood said the time taken to create a game is hard to justify when more typical forms or reports are faster, cheaper and less risky.
Not all stories will lend themselves to being told through a game and the accelerated conveyor of breaking news is unlikely to slow down enough to allow games to catch up, but the sparing use of interactive elements in journalism can create stories that connect with the audience on a deeper level. level.
The journalism we consume every day, especially audio and video, is generally ’tilted’ rather than ’tilted’ and for many, active participation is simply not how they consume their news.
As publishers attempt to incorporate the elements that make games so engrossing, they’ll have to be crafty in how they take readers on a journey.
And with these new features demanding so much from the journalists, editors, and programmers who create them, when they hit, they have to hit hard.