The Syrian Journey: Tips for journalists interested in creating news games

Gamification, Guide and Tips, Interactive, Interview, Journalism industry



[expand title=”Serious games”]

Serious games help the reader better understand and engage with a human story or situation that news articles and statistics can not express. Few things can quite describe a problem like actually being (virtually) put into that situation.


An interesting concept but how do journalists successfully create a news game?



Advice from the creators of: The Syrian Journey

A possible ending in The Syrian Journey to a peaceful life




Eloise Dicker, Mamdouh Akbiek and Daniel Adamson from the BBC were responsible for the controversial Syrian Journey text adventure. An interactive project where readers faced the harsh realities millions fleeing Syria face everyday.




Eloise shared her top three do’s and don’ts for journalists wanting to create a news game like it:







What are some of the challenges journalists may face in creating a news game?

Thinking back to their own text adventure they said:


It was important to ensure that the situations faced by users of the interactive experience were based on and true to real life situations faced by actual refugees. It was also technically challenging to work out the routes and make them flow.”


Examples of successful projects to keep in mind:

1. The first project they recommended checking out was created by 15 students over the semester at Carnegie Mellon University called Decisions That Matter – An interactive experience. The BBC team said:


 “This is an interesting and valuable POV ‘videogame’ on the subject of sexual assault.”


The interactive piece adopts a comic book style, featuring multiple choices around the sensitive topic of sexual assault



2. If you’re looking for story-telling inspiration they recommended: Walking in War’s Path. Which they described as:


“An outstanding piece of interactive story-telling,” using point of view camera work.


examples of story telling
This project shows the haunting reminders left from the war that the residents of Israel and Gaza see everyday




What about the bad examples of gamification and serious games?

“There is plenty of bad and gimmicky journalism out there – it has little to do with the medium or format, and everything to do with the quality of the journalism.”


It is easy to forget when making a serious game that it isn’t a video game. It still needs to be factual, good journalism. It needs to be more educational and meaningful than it is entertaining – especially when attempting to cover human suffering like The Syrian Journey.



What is the current situation of news games in the journalism sector?

“News gaming will continue to grow and develop. It will not displace traditional forms of storytelling but it will be part of the media landscape, and will certainly come to be accepted as a legitimate and valid form of communication.”



Juliana Ruhfus, senior journalist at Al Jazeera, also talked about her investigative news game: Pirate Fishing, and why some journalists just do not take the word ‘game’ seriously enough. [2014]



Final words of wisdom:

“No matter how much the forms change, the same basic journalistic standards – honesty, integrity, objectivity – apply.”


Treat a game-based project the same way you would with any news form.




To read more around The Syrian Journey, and why it was controversial in the world of news – click here.


For advice from the gamification expert, Andrzej Marczewski – click here.





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