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Beyond the usual article format: the role of games and data journalism

Beyond the usual article format: the role of games and data journalism

The video gaming industry has been changing in recent times and due to its digitization it is facing a disruption. This creative destruction resembles the changes the music industry underwent with the rise of Napster and the digitization of song files, Charles-Axel Dein wrote (via OWNI.eu) quoting EA Sports' Peter Moore.

"Thanks to mobile devices and social networks, games are reaching new customers. Publishers target these "casual gamers" with simpler gameplay, no required continuous commitment (you can play in short bursts) and new business models (low pay-per-downloads price or free-to-play)," he wrote.

Games have been recently growing in popularity with the news too - with expressions like the "gamification of the news" creeping into our vocabulary.
Dein referred to the expression meaning "to instil some game dynamics in [their] software".

Robert Quigley on Old Media, New Tricks explained it as "taking video-game style processes and applying them to everything, from the way we educate our children to the way we keep up with what's going on in the community".

The article cited some examples of news organizations that are trying to add game mechanisms to online news, hoping for broader their online community and gaining reader loyalty. "Users can earn points by reading articles or play HuffPo's "Predict the News" feature, which launched at the end of last year", it reported.

Other news outlets have also introduced some forms of game, as the Cincinnati Enquirer did through the app Porkappolis, or using Foursquare and Tackable, which both incorporate game mechanisms to encourage user engagement.

Another news-related social gaming experiment is on Philly.com, the website of the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Daily News, where users earn points for some activities they do, such as visiting the site, reading articles, sharing content, and leaving comments.

The goal of social games - to encourage deeper engagement and participation - is nowadays fundamental for news organizations to build a loyal community and therefore readership. However, some in the news industry probably will turn up their noses at the idea of "games" being incorporated into their work.

As Philip Trippenbach said at the International Journalism Festival in Perugia last week, talking about the "G word", many will probably say "Oh you want to turn my really serious story into a game...".
Trippenbach is the editor-in-chief of Citizenside, a citizen photo and video journalism agency based in Paris.

"The most powerful interactive form is gaming, in terms of interactive journalism, that is where the win is. When you talk about gaming baked right into the heart of a package, that is very profound", Journalism.co.uk reported him as saying said.

"I loathe the word 'gamification'. It's often bandied about in an attempt to sound cutting-edge, but it's a glib summation of a deep principle, and too easily dismissable. There's no magic sprinkling of game chocolate sprinkles that will turn a crappy site into a deeply rewarding user experience. Game dynamics are deeper than that", Trippenbach wrote.

Journalists have a lot to learn from games, in Trippenbach's opinion, as in terms of interacting gaming can be extremely powerful.

Citizenside, he explained in Perugia, has a point-based game system and users get points based on how many activities they do, from submitting photos, to making comments as well as depending on the number of users viewing their images.

This encourages users to be involved in the community and at the same time it helps the Citizenside editorial team to assess and verify the quality of information that users submit.
People are motivated by reputation within communities and the points-system creates a ranking of reliability. The more you are engaged in the community, the higher is your level and the more is trustworthy your contribution.

"If we get a picture from a level 35 user, well, it takes a long time to get to level 35 or 45, and the Citizenside editorial team know that that user has demonstrated commitment to our values," he said.

Trippenbach also focused on the differences between stories and issues. Not all the important things people should know are stories, actually many are not, he underlined. Many are just issues and issues are difficult to be told in a normal storytelling written article. "Many things, like global climate change, aren't stories. They're issues that can manifest as stories in specific cases", he wrote. And play is a powerful way of learning.

Gaming doesn't necessarily mean the fully-fledged computer games we play on a PlayStation, it can be the simple interactive engagement of the Guardian MPs expenses app, or the New York Times' Budget Puzzle interactive, in which you attempt to solve the deficit, Journalism.co.uk noted.

Another example of how news organizations have implemented news and factual games in their site is the American Public Media's (one of the nation's public radio producers) Budget Hero, whose aim is to seek to provide a values- and fiscal-based lens for citizens to examine policy debates during this election year. The budget model, policy impacts and pro/con arguments have been rigorously researched, expertly validated and represent non-partisan options, the site claims.

Gaming is just one of the possible ways to try go beyond the "normal" article format and to find different ways to tell stories. Data journalism, as the Guardian MPs expenses app showed, is one of those.

"We are telling stories from different information. The data desk has moved into the newsroom: that's where we get involved in the news", Simon Rogers, editor Guardian Datablog and Datastore said in Perugia.

Data journalism and data visualization could also learn something from game design, Philip Man wrote (via OWNI.eu). The purpose of visualization, he wrote, is to give insight and to increase our ability to perform cognitive processes like discovery, decision-making and explanation. Man tried to apply the concepts of involvement, motivation and narrative, key concepts of game design and 3D learning environments, to the data visualization. You can find the whole article here.

Sources: OWNI.eu (1), (2), Old Media, New Tricks, Journalism.co.uk, Trippenbach.com (1), (2), Budget Hero
Images source: MyEyeSees and garryknight @ Trippenbach.com



Federica Cherubini


2011-04-21 11:21

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