Newsgames are on the horizon. Publishers are using interactive graphics and games to compliment coverage of stories and marketers are using games as a way of attracting website traffic and engaging audiences.
And, in the UK, universities are incorporating games into journalism courses.
Paul Egglestone is the digital co-ordinator at the School of Journalism, Media and Communication at England’s University of Central Lancashire, which will this year launch a new module in its masters program focused on games and interactive narratives for journalists.
UCLan has set itself the challenge of designing the journalist of 2015 and has teamed up senior editorial staff from 17 of the UK’s leading media companies including Sky TV, BBC, the Guardian, the Independent, the Telegraph and Haymarket Media.
As part of that process cross-disciplinary teams participated in a series of workshops, one of which involved developing a new game on the theme of democracy.
I recently sent some questions to Egglestone as part of research on a story about newsgames. You will be able to read the story in an upcoming edition of Walkley Magazine. In the meantime, his responses give some insights into what UCLan has discovered and the challenges of incorporating games into newsroom offerings.
Egglestone says newsrooms are a long way from being able to produce compelling games-based news and that existing workflows will need to be opened up considerably to enable newsrooms to add games.
He says people are the most important element: “It’s not just about skills … it’s about how relationships and roles are defined. And it’s about how the public face of the news organisation interacts with its new audience. The game is just another content output.”
Here’s what he said:
Q: What did you discover about the process of making a journalism game? Are the editorial considerations different? Do journalists and editors need to take a different approach?
Games designers are much more interested in user experience than story. Some were curious about why journalists were so hung up on ‘fact’. Most believed that a key component of the games they enjoyed most was the shared experience of collaborating (on-line) to defeat a common enemy or resolve a particular puzzle. This despite the image of nocturnal gamming geeks playing alone in their bedrooms. Consequently, the editorial considerations are fundamentally different.
Q: What were the strengths and weaknesses of the games produced?
We haven’t got as far as building any of the ideas that came out of our workshops yet. Our focus was slightly different [to develop post-graduate course modules] however, it soon became apparent that the time and related costs of news games is currently likely to be a barrier. However, if adding games to the content mix helps secure or build audience, companies will invest and will be looking for appropriately skilled people to take this forward. One area that did seem like a real possibility for developing and distributing news games quickly and relatively cheaply was in the mobile arena where there is already a culture of none news gaming. Development costs are relatively cheap and there’s the advantage of established distribution channels.
Q: How do game narratives differ from traditional news stories?
Bearing in mind the thoughts of games designers who care less about story and more about user experience this is a really interesting area. Journalists, to their cost in my view, are at the opposite end of the pole where the content is king and the context is rarely a consideration. What’s changing here is the way people are accessing and sharing news and information. A recent survey on news consumption (Pew 2010) demonstrated that people are no longer simply migrating from one technology to another for their news – they’re beginning to exploit the capacity of multiple technologies to interact with information differently. Interactive narrative fits into this space. Yes it is different to traditional forms of story telling – it’s non-linear, involves levels of risk and reward etc. But the biggest shift is created by the user who brings an entirely different set of expectations with them when they approach stories with an interactive element.
Q: For newsrooms to add games to their content mix, how would they need to change?
As it stands newsrooms are a long way from being ready to produce compelling games based news and information. Deadline and story driven newsroom culture won’t support this level of creativity. Workflow designed to service current editorial and technology and processes to deliver existing core product would need to be opened up considerably to enable newsrooms to add games. And the most important element in this evolution is PEOPLE. It’s not just about skills – though relevant programming and interaction design skills are essential. It’s about environment and culture. It’s about how relationships and roles are defined. And it’s about how the public face of the news organisation interacts with its new audience. The game content is just another output.
Q: What are the key lessons journalists can learn from gaming?
There were a number of things our professional journalists took from this exercise. The focus on user experience the gamers brought to the table was – somewhat surprisingly – a new paradigm for many. The possibility of telling a story in a richer multi-faceted way was also recognised. And the notion of the progress through the narrative being driven by the user rather than the journalist excited and repelled in equal measure.
Q: Do you think this is an are of storytelling with potential for journalism?
The enthusiasm the workshop series generated along with the range of ideas the multi-disciplinary teams of designers, journalists, programmers and producers developed seems to suggest there’s definitely interest in exploring further. My own view is that there are thousands of ways we might be able to tell stories in future and that no single person will have all the necessary skills and abilities to realise them on their own. Sitting journalists down with games designers and asking ‘what if’ is just the beginning. Add the user to the equation and create the right environment to foster creative play and I’d say there was a future for new forms of story telling and this will be one of them.