BBC Games Air Crash – Almost

Interesting post over at the Georgia Tech Gaming and Journalism Blog.

Ian Bogost writes about the BBC’s recent news piece with Rory Cellan-Jones, which used a flight sim to recreate the water landing of US Air flight 1549 in the Hudson River.

Ian writes that BBC news could have taken things farther – instead of commissioning the sim, and then filming it for a video piece, they could have just released the sim itself as a playable news piece for the audience:

offering the scenario as a download for people to run on their own would have allowed the news consumer to become an active participant in the scenario itself, to understand better […] what would it have been like to be involved. Games allow role-played action within a situation. That’s what the story promised (“Here’s Captain Chesley Sullenberger’s view from the cockpit”) but didn’t deliver.

Quite right. Experiencing a reconstructed news event interactively could be a powerful way of increasing understanding. There have been a couple of examples already – JFK Reloaded comes to mind.

The public perception of games as trivializing a serious situation is fading, but it is still there. There will definitely be some outcry against this sort of treatment when games like this start appearing. But it will fade. The power of games as a means of understanding a situation, and a way to reach an audience,  is simply too great to overlook.

At the moment the biggest obstacles to making this happen in journalism are practical. Games take a long time to develop – even the simplest flash game takes too long to develop to compete in a 24-hour live news cycle. But in current affairs and investigative journalism, we have a real opportunity. Not all journalism is reactive, live, “this is what just happened” stuff. Current affairs journalism goes beyond the immediate facts to ask two crucial questions: Why and So What?

In the long run, detailed gaming experiences offer us an unparallelled opportunity to engage the public with complex issues. Nothing teaches you the way things work better than a game. Games allow you to play with all the variables in a complex system and gain an intuitive understanding of how it all fits together, how that system reacts to perturbations. Neither video, nor audio, nor text can do that.

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