Journalistic Storytelling via Games and Virtual Reality
Emerging opportunities in virtual reality and lower barriers of entry into game creation are enabling new methods of storytelling for journalists, reaching audiences in an entirely new form of commuication.
- With virtual reality companies constantly accelerating in popularity year on year, it's no wonder early adopters are finding new and innovative uses for the predominantly game-oriented technology. Virtual Reality hardware such as Oculus Rift adds a new layer of immersion to the world of any game, and this opens plenty of opportunity for journalists to convey stories and experiences with the user's complete and undivided attention.
- Journalism via games isn't an entirely new concept - existing game franchises have been leveraging their popularity to spread messages about current social issues to their wide audiences. An example of this is the Grand Theft Auto series which has, in several games, portrayed in captivating manner several social issues. Grand Theft Auto IV has been described as “a powerful statement on the immigrant experience, and the violent process of assimilation.” The experiences and viewpoints conveyed through this and similar games have the ability to develop a level of perception and understanding in the audience which often can't be done by conventional media.
- Aside from existing franchises being used to convey these nuances, many games are created for the sole purpose of provoking thought and discussion on certain aspects of social change. An example of this is Sweatshop: "a free strategy game about money, fashion and dismembered limbs." The game sees players managing a sweatshop, hiring and firing child workers and modifying work conditions in order to maximise profits. The game's official site states "Sweatshop is a light-hearted game, but it’s based upon very present realities that many workers around the world contend with each day." It is made in such a way that the game itself appeals to a broad target audience, however the true nature of the sweatshop manufacturing industry and the perspective of the thousands of workers therein is the underlying message of the experience.
- Papers Please is another game created with the goal of reaching a wide audience to create awareness of real social issues. The game is based on the emotional toll on an immigration officer in a dystopian country - deciding who you let in and who to turn away. As stated in a review from Rock Paper Shotgun, Papers Please is "peculiarly engrossing, darkly ominous, and a fascinating exploration of morality versus progress."
- The new opportunities created by developments in consumer-oriented virtual reality hardware now allows journalists to create virtual experiences using this hardware and add a whole new dimension to their stories. A recent example of this is New York Times' inclusion of a virtual reality video with an issue of their magazine. Watching the video involved loading the special video in the NYT app, and constructing a pair of virtual reality goggles using your phone and a flat-pack kit included with the magazine. This approach was taken seemingly due to the vast majority of people not yet owning specialized VR hardware as most comsumer-oriented hardware has yet to reach the mass market. NYT improvised with a solution which caters to almost all of their readers while still providing a highly immersive VR experience. No doubt oter publications will be looking to explore these new opportunities and will be working to further develop these experiences to further develop their existing journalistic endeavours.