Take, for example, Burger Tycoon. It’s what we call an editorial game: short-form, quickly produced and easily accessed online. These games critique current events and issues – in this case global fast food. In Burger Tycoon, players take charge of every aspect of a fast food giant: they raise soy and cattle in South America, curtail contamination in a meat-packing plant, scold frustrated fry cooks in a restaurant and devise ad campaigns at corporate headquarters.
Despite its cutesy graphics and simple mouse-click play, Burger Tycoon paints a striking portrait of how the business models of multinational food conglomerates can compel corruption. As costs begin to outstrip revenues, players look for new ways to make a profit: tearing down rainforests, stuffing cattle with antibiotics, bribing health officials. Like a political cartoon, the game is highly opinionated, but it presents its opinion through the rules of the game rather than through images and words.
Video games do not offer a panacea for news organisations. But they offer a truly new way for journalism to contribute to civic life by amplifying the how instead of the who. Video games offer models of how the world works and how it might be improved, rather than skin-deep stories about what ails it. That’s why the best journalism of the future might not be read, but played.
Interesting idea… Jonathan, I think we have a theme for your next column!