Why do journalists focus on story so much? There are other ways of gaining and transmitting understanding.
Stories are necessarily limited. A narrative has to use characters, locations, a clear plot. These are necessarily artificial – an abstraction of reality.
What about complex systems? Like climate change. Like the national budget. The arms trade. Or industrial/political graft networks. These stories are super important. But they’re difficult to tell stories about, because they’re so big and so complex.
The story is in the user.
There are other ways to do it. Civilisation is a great example. Lots of high school teachers in the USA are using it to teach world history. The game is randomly generated every time you start up – there’s no pre-set story, like in a lot of games. Users create the story, as they play. They explore their world, they discover new lands, they wage war, they discover technologies. They’re gaining understanding through interaction.
Global history is a really complicated system, but like any system it runs on principles and rules. You can’t build an ironclad navy if you don’t have access to iron and coal. You can’t build nukes unless you have access to uranium. By interacting with the system, you understand how it works.
It’s about encoding an understanding of the system in another abstraction – not a story, but a game. If the rules of the game accurately reflect the interactions that happen in the real world, the user’s learning is genuine.
I’ve blogged about lots of examples of this here, like Budget Hero, Six Days in Fallujah, MP for a Week, and Trafalgar: Origins. The last one is a history title, but it’s a really excellent game built on a genuine understanding of history, and conveys factual information just like journalism. (History is just old journalism, after all.)
There are a lot of issues about using games in journalism. (Six Days in Fallujah raised a furore with veterans’ groups when it was announced.)
This is where journalism should go.