The Gamification of News

Bonnie Gardiner speaks with game developers about how the news can become a game, and in particular how the current crisis in Syria can be better understood through gameplay.

The gaming experience has evolved greatly over the past few years – but could it also now be used to report he news?

In the midst of the Vietnam War, much of the western world was experiencing the conflict first-hand, not just through the soldiers but also up close and in their own homes.

Thanks to the widespread adoption of television, it was possible for war to be understood on entirely new levels, which media theorist Marshall McLuhan claimed signified the end of the dichotomy between civilian and military.

Now, in a world where consumers have gone from television to computers, tablets and smartphones, digital development and consultancy company Auroch Digital believes there is now room for another medium for reporting on substantial news stories – gaming.

Games with a Message

As part of its GameTheNews project, Auroch Digital has been exploring new ways of covering global events via the international language of gameplay. The team, led by Creative Director Tomas Rawlings, have produced a number of games on a variety of topics covered by Wired and the Huffington Post, however they expect their latest release depicting the war in Syria may be the most controversial.

Auroch Digital have created a new game to help educate people about the conflict in Syria

The game, entitled ‘Endgame Syria’ is designed to challenge the concept of gaming as purely for entertainment, aiming to instead educate people on the experience of war by allowing users to explore the options open to the rebels as they push the conflict to its endgame. From political stance, to routes taken, to military units deployed – every decision made in the game has a consequence, impacting the user’s circumstances and affecting the final outcome.

More than War Games

These days it is also becoming common for armed forces to use games and game concepts to push their various aims, such as recruitment, training and encouragement. Likewise, games which explore the elements of war are not exactly a new concept, with chart toppers like Call of Duty, Battlefield and Medal of Honour also putting users in the shoes of military personnel.

Popular games like Call of Duty are controversial for their depiction of war as entertainment

The main controversy surrounding these games, used by regular citizens, is that they are turning something as serious as war into entertainment, in particular if they depict an ongoing and complex conflict, with greater potential to offend or mislead rather than enlighten. But Rawlings poses the question that if games can turn war into entertainment, then – if done sensitively and appropriately – why could they not also help us to understand it? After all, these days, games don’t have to be frivolous and lightweight.

The point is that we’re using this medium as a means to express and explore the uncertainties of this situation,” he says. “A game allows you to re-explore the same territory and see how different choices play out and understand that those choices have far-reaching consequences.”

Not Just For Conflict

Other games that explore real life events include Auroch Digital’s coverage of the US presidential debates, with the Moral Kombat – The Obama vs. Romney Debate Game aimed to educate on the different stances held by each candidate while also recreating, to a degree, the experience of a high stress debate scenario.

GameTheNews created a game to report on the US Presidential Debate

Meanwhile, Wired features games such as Coconut Sunshine, put together by Auroch Digital to depict the first solar-powered nation after Tokelau, a tiny collection of atolls in the South Pacific, erected a one-megawatt solar panel array across the three atolls, providing its more than 1,400 residents with 150 per cent of their electricity needs.

Other games created for GameTheNews cover everything from nomad planets, to rhinoceros poaching in Africa, glow in the dark smart road systems created in the Netherlands, and most recently the cruelty of child labour in Uzbekistan – each covering the reports with gaming devices which can educate and create awareness in a safe environment.

No more Nazis

According to Rawlings, Nazis still make great gaming villains

Popularising a game on the Syrian uprising no doubt has its challenges compared to more generic war games based on real life events in history.

It’s easy to do a WWII game as the Nazis make great villains and everyone likes shooting 1940s fascists,” explains Rawlings. By taking the step towards something more serious and sensitive, Rawlings hopes the peers of Auroch Digital will see the company as courageous, while also encouraging people ignorant to the situation in Syria to find out more.

If either of these are the case,” he adds, “then the risk of making something controversial rather than playing it safe will have been worthwhile.”

You can download the game from here.