Video games as journalism

Just a quick mention for another of those New Scientist CultureLab “Storytelling2.0” pieces; how about video games as a future venue for journalism?

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!

3 thoughts on “Video games as journalism”

  1. Possibly… problem is that journalism is by its very nature reportage : “some shit is going down” — ‘first draft of history’ and all that… writing about things as they happen.

    Games, however, have rather long development cycles. It takes months to put a game together and release it.

    So I would say that there’s a tension right there’ you can certainly have games that are about communicating the truth about the world (rather than genre immitations of that world) but I don’t think you can have games that are journalistic.

    It is a nice idea though. I often wish that games had more to say than… well… nothing đŸ™‚

  2. Some simple Flash games can be whipped up in a matter of hours. You’re not going to get Grand Theft Auto: Nightly News of course.

  3. @Jonathan: Someone isn’t thinking outside the box. Like Wintermute (and the article itself) mentioned, smaller casual games—the kind that Flash introduced us to and the kind that are now seeing a renaissance of sorts due to iPhone and Android—can be developed in a week or less. That’s the same turnover as, say Saturday Night Live, another fully topical example of not-quite-journalism.
    Futhermore, the big-name, cutting-edge $60-a-pop video games… yes they often have a development cycle of months (years). *But* once you have the framework in place, it is a relatively trivial matter to release content updates with a high frequency. Or an online component could be added to the game that incorporates real-world events without the intervention of the development team. Today we might be limited to say, making the weather in-game match the outside weather, but I think that in five years, it won’t be out-of-reach to have real-world developments affect your in-game worlds.

Comments are closed.