You’re in New York City. You’re standing on the corner of Nostrand and Atlantic in Brooklyn, when you notice a woman’s body convulsing on the side walk. As you rush over, the manic jerking ceases and the fragile gait lets out a deep groan.
A heart attack.
To save her, you must get her to the nearest hospital.
Time is ticking.
En route to Bellevue hospital, other decrepit bodies and raspy voices call out from the sidewalk, desperate for your attention.
Some will live, some will die.
As you approach the hospital, the side walk becomes increasingly cluttered with groaning figures.
Soon the bodies are appearing faster than you can save them.
Just as you turn the final corner…
“You saved 6 out of 31 lives. Better luck next time.”
This is HeartSaver, a game built by developers and journalists from ProPublica at the Global Editors Network in New York in 2013 (Wei, Zamora, & Shaw, 2013). Using data from the Centres for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the game emphasises the importance of
immediate treatment for heart attack survival (Wei, Zamora, & Shaw, 2013).
Welcome to Gaming
Games are not a recent introduction to journalism- Sunday crosswords have long been a print trademark. However, with the growth of virtual reality, the global gaming industry is readily becoming “the forefront of many of the most significant innovations in new media“ (Flew, 2014).
The term virtual reality was first introduced in the 1990s as “a stimulated environment, or a digital social space, typically in opposition to the real” (Brey, 2014). Today, ‘the virtual’ is more specific in its reference to computer games with fully immersive environments, such as simulation games (Flew, 2014). Whilst in 2016 alone, $5.1billion was spent on virtual reality gaming hardware, accessories and software, the significance of this industry extends beyond economic terms, notably with the introduction of gamification (Statista, 2017).
Level Selected: Gamification
Gamification is the use of game mechanics and game design techniques in non-gaming contexts (Escribano, 2012). This model is increasing in popularity and it is estimated that 70% of the world’s top 2000 organisations’ have produced a gamified application (Bittner & Schipper, 2014). Such platforms typically incentivize with points, badges and leaderboards to reward player behaviour, increase public awareness and motivate the audience to translate these desire behaviours into reality. (Harwood & Garry, 2015) (Bittner & Schipper, 2014).
Player Selected: Journalist
Gamification allows journalists to maintain their role of informing the public, whilst conveying information in an engaging manner that informs readers in a way they remember and understand (Ehrlich & Saltzman, 2015) (Conill & Karlsson, 2016). The need for interactivity is recognised in the below TED talk by Gabe Zicherman, as he reflects that a generational media habit shift has formed a disconnect between the public and traditional formats of news distribution (Reese & Lee, 2012) (Zichermann, 2014). However, this disconnect is overcome by transporting individuals to another reality which enables their engagement with a stimulating environment, whilst simultaneously intensifying their real world awareness (Conill & Karlsson, 2016). Thus, the dying journalist receives a new life and may continue playing.
In the ever competitive environment of media convergence, journalists are no longer just competing against other journalists. They’re competing with Candy Crush, Tetris, or any other app the audience may select upon opening their phone (Roberts & Emmons, 2016).
If news organisations are not producing interactive content, they fail to gain the attention of digital natives, who are accustomed to the omnipresence of stimulating networked technologies (Conill & Karlsson, 2016). Gamification also maintains audiences for extended periods of time as the experience fosters autonomy and mastery, concepts that the self-determination theory depicts as the igniters of intrinsic motivation (Ryan & Deci, 2000). Thus, the promotion of regular news consumption through gamification allows journalists to extend their audience and ‘level up’ in their professional position.
Recently, a War simulation entitled Endgame: Syria was developed to put players in control of the rebel forces by allowing the pursuit of different military and political objectives (Stuart, 2016). However, the game was rejected for inclusion on the iPhone App Store on the basis of “trivialising a specific race, culture, a real government or corporation” (Stuart, 2016). Such trivialisation was viewed as a caveat that journalistic gamification has the potential to undermine the significance of real-life events (Shepard & Hamilton, 2016). In response, suggestion was made that “journalism gamification needs a certain distance from mainstream discourse” (Stuart, 2016). This required distance is comprised of employing gamification within an ethical paradigm comprised of rules, regulations and standards to maintain an ethical benchmark (Shepard & Hamilton, 2016). The utalisation of such a paradigm would negotiate public awareness through interactivity and respect for the reality of these news events, thus allowing for the successful implementation of journalistic gamification.
As with any game, the success of journalistic gamification has a list of rules and without these, the game no longer makes sense. Gamification is not about trivialising real life events or undermining the importance of significant issues. Instead, gamification is about ensuring public awareness and equipping the community with skills to navigate as informed, individual players.
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