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Journalism Meets Virtual Reality May 1, 2008

Posted by Joanne KY Teoh in Convergence, Essays, Journalism, News, Trends.
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The first wired generation raised in the virtual realm is coming of age and recreating the world in their image. Digital natives are deserting traditional sources of information for an emerging journalism of interactive multimedia experiences informed by the timeless dynamics of story.

This was the theme of my talk this week at a conference in Singapore on computer games and multimedia. I spoke about how news organizations are experimenting with storytelling in virtual worlds and the need to re-imagine journalism in a game environment.

Serious games and their potential for interactive, player-directed storytelling are great at illustrating complex situations. The concept is not far-fetched. Journalists must re-imagine story narratives and experiment with computer simulations to help digital natives learn about news events and trends.

Such an approach envisions new narrative forms as sophisticated play to engage a tribe of gamers who demand stimulating complex systems. The medium of games has matured along with the digital natives who grew up with it. In a galaxy not too far away, this generation will be learning about politics – not by reading or watching the news – but by playing games with peers in virtual worlds.

For example, news on the Olympic Torch and the shadows that dog it can be created as a game that immerses people in the real world, full of real-time political crises. Players create avatars modeled on characters such as the Dalai Lama and politicians caught in the fray. The route to Beijing offers rich scenarios for the virtual reconstruction of real cityscapes.

In his keynote, David Wortley of the Serious Games Institute in UK shared a glimpse of the future of serious play. The movement has serious brain power behind it. Advocates and nonprofit groups have joined forces to search for new ways to reach young people, while tech-savvy academics are keen to explore video games’ education potential.

Serious games are already being developed to help players learn about health, social, political and economic issues. The United Nations has released Food Force, a game that helps people understand the difficulties of dispensing aid to war zones.

A newspaper or other local news organization needs to be more than just a pipeline for informing people about current news and events.

PAUL GRABOWICZ University of California-Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism

News games are more than voyeuristic mindless fun. They can be a medium for change. At Carnegie Mellon University, a game on the Middle East conflict is being developed. In the game Peacemaker, players assume the role of either the Israeli prime minister or the Palestinian president.

The idea of games for journalistic storytelling is in the skunkworks. The New York Times has published a game to help readers understand immigration legislation that was up for debate.

News media can use games to provide context for young people to understand their community and its history. Journalism professor Paul Grabowicz says video games let people re-live the history of their communities and understand not just what’s happening today but what came before.

Funded by a Knight News Challenge grant, Grabowicz and his students are developing Remembering 7th Street, a virtual reality game that replicates an Oakland street known for its jazz and blues club scene in the ’40s and ’50s.

Educators and traditional media approach games with fear. There is much to celebrate and little to fear when a young medium and old media converge on new media to reach a post-MTV audience. When information is retooled as enthralling experiences that tap the emotion and intellect through the interplay of narrative, performance and play, the consequences of this fundamental shift in media creation and use are profound and promising.

Through their ability to renew age-old modes of cultural expression, games can be adjuncts to topical issues, providing fresh experiences to spur community interactions. Augmenting play with media narratives can connect audiences to current events and issues.

We need best practices to re-imagine a knowledge aesthetic that provides core journalistic services built around a community of media producers, visual storytellers, information designers, narrative architects and game developers.

Serious Games sites:
Water Cooler Games
Social Impact Games
Games for Change
Impact Games

Related Read:
Why Journalists Should Develop Video Games
Using Video Games to Tell the News

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