Engage your audience with news games

byMargaret Looney
Jul 18, 2013 in Digital Journalism

Journalists who follow the adage "Show, don't tell" have a powerful but underused tool at their disposal: news games.

While traditional storytelling relies on techniques like anecdotes or building a narrative arc, journalists can use news games to tell interactive stories that let the audience experience the story from a first-person point of view.

"Our job as journalists is to inform the public. By using emotion and empathy, games allow us to inform readers in a new way—and one in which they both remember and understand," wrote Sisi Wei, news applications developer at ProPublica, in this Source post.

News organizations have been tinkering with games for few years. The New York Times in 2009 created Gauging Your Distraction, which tests how well players can simulate texting and driving at the same time. In 2008, American Public Media built Budget Hero, which lets players simulate the task of balancing a federal budget for thirty years. The game uses reported data to show what the results of each budget decision would be.

Wei notes how these games "are great examples of 'show, don’t tell,' but also of how to 'involve' players in the story itself."

Wei and two ProPublica colleagues built Heartsaver, in which players must decide how to get heart attack victims to hospitals in New York City. Wei and her colleagues based the game on real transportation times between locations using Google's transportation API and included survival rates for heart attack patients from the Emergency Medicine Journal.

"Using real world information in the game not only makes it more powerful and effective, it puts the “news” in news game," Wei wrote.

Want to build your own news game? Wei suggests sticking to a strong storyline; making the game fun; letting players create their own fate; and giving people a reason to come back for more.

There are also a few tools to get you started. Try Twine, a code-free tool that lets players choose how the interactive story will play out or ImpactJS, the HTML5 game framework used to create Heartsaver.

To gather more resources for making your own news game, read Wei's Source post here.

IJNet Editorial Assistant Margaret Looney writes about the latest media trends, reporting tools and journalism resources.

Image CC-licensed on Flickr via Axel Pfaender.