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Social gaming, journalism and letting go of storytelling


During my beatblogging antics recently I fell across a new idea which gave me one of those rare and exciting moments when you see things through a different lens.

Pervasive gaming, as it is known, is the idea that you play a game in public and the unknowing bystanders become part of the game without will. While chatting with social design man and newbie gamer Julian Sykes I was introduced to some other projects which are all based around the idea of engaging with the public through storytelling in unusual ways.

Earlier this year during the ‘What’s next for niche’ talk at the second News:Rewired conference, one of my fellow panellists, Philip Trippenbach – a freelance interactive producer, spoke eloquently about gaming and journalism. While I didn’t admit it openly at the time, I’m not sure I quite followed exactly what Philip was saying. (This was partly to do with the fact the blood was still ringing in my ears after giving my presentation to a room full of editors and CEOs). But I now read back over the post on his blog and it seems to make a lot more sense – “this is where journalism should go,” he concludes.

An idea of how gaming relates to journalism is beginning to take shape in my own mind and I want to lay out these thoughts to see if I can get a better grasp on the concept – it seems developments in social gaming could not only be a part of how journalism develops in the future, but are already part of how it functions today.

“Alice invites the reader to engage in the storytelling process.”

First of all – watch this video which shows three ideas about how the future of the book may change. It’s important to watch all three – but it’s Alice that I’m most interested in – the interactive and playful reading experience.

We’re told that as the reader becomes a bigger part of the creative process of telling the story, the lines are blurred between reality and fiction – so too with journalism in terms of blurring lines between the article (or journalism) and the reader, which often sparks the tired debate around the difference between ‘citizen’ and ‘professional’ journalists, comments, and taking part in the journalistic process.

Another interesting point is the idea that plot developments and twists can be unravelled in specific geographic locations …

“In time, a non-linear narrative emerges, allowing the reader to involve themselves in the story from multiple angles”

– this is much the case with how journalism is developing online – readers increasingly engage with the story at an early stage, add to it and become part of it, and later, once something is physically published, the narrative of the story continues with comments, tweets, new information added and a wider context deepened.

Gaming and journalism

Journalism, like games, involves characters, a plot and locations – we are storytellers after all.

Pervasive gaming, such as Hide&Seek in London, unpicks how we engage with the public, and to an extent this has been shaking up journalism for some time – engagement with the public is what sparked all those ‘no more ivory towers’ posts a while back and which is driving much debate around how to deal with commenting, contributing and involving others in a collaborative journalism process.

Similar to the idea of Alice, gaming allows a bigger and deeper contribution and shaping of a story from the outset.

But it seems while journalism shares much with gaming and new developments in storytelling – it perhaps misses out some of the playfulness – and this may be at the heart of engagement with the reader.

There’s a lot to be said for looking at social gaming and seeing how it overlaps in a journalistic context in terms of engaging readers in the story to such an extent perhaps that the story is constantly evolving and sort of spills out onto the page (or screen) over a period of time as opposed to fitting neatly and concisely into set column inches.

One of the key factors of social gaming is that the playtime is not fixed on one outcome or end product – but rather the playing itself is the main focus – see Bristol’s Igfest – where beneficial outcomes are a by product. If we focus on engagement and involving the reader in an interactive process to do with storytelling and play, if we follow the success of the some of the social gaming projects in the UK, the stories will tell themselves. The question is are we ready to let go?

One of the immediate criticisms to this idea is if we let go of the storytelling where do the traditional journalistic cornerstones of accurate, unbiased and ethic reporting based on fact come in? An answer to this may be, if the journalist still steers the process the story will still be underpinned by good practises.

But perhaps others have more thoughts on this? If we let go of the storytelling process will journalism lose its integrity or should we modify the ideas of social gaming to fit a model which is a bit more controlled for the industry? What do you think about the whole idea of social gaming and how it relates to journalism? I’d welcome your comments.

Credit: I am indebted to Julian from ThinkARK for showing some of the ideas behind pervasive gaming in this post…

Written by hrwaldram

October 11, 2010 at 8:36 am

2 Responses

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  1. I’d say there’s a lot journalists can learn from the many kinds of gaming. We’re necessarily becoming more involved in interacting with our users now – let’s drop that obsolete ‘audience’ word. And that interactivity allows us to do new things, and do old things better. And the best kind of interactivity among relative strangers? Well, that’s gaming, hands down. We don’t have to turn journalism into a game – but there are lessons there about effective interaction that we ignore at our peril.


    October 11, 2010 at 9:18 pm

  2. Thanks Philip, I agree the audience word should go. It’s the interaction I’m after definitely – not about turning journalism into a game (though that would be fun!).


    October 11, 2010 at 9:47 pm

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