News to Play

For the past 18 months, APEM has been involved in the creation of a serious news game, on behalf of the Alliance de la Presse, as part of a European consortium that also includes the Sud Ouest newspaper and Wan-Ifra.

Attracting a younger readership is a important issue for newspaper publishers. The production of video formats adapted to social networks, fact-checking systems, live editorial coverage on Twich, etc. are all attempts to reach teenagers and young adults. In the same vein, in 2022, the Alliance de la Presse joined forces with a European consortium to develop a serious game based on current aMairs. The principle is quite simple: get young readers to play with the news by confronting them with the same choices as a journalist. Based on a real press article, they decide which elements to keep, in order to build their article, and which quotation they prefer to illustrate their argument. The result is an edited version of a subject based on verified content.

Groping and groping

With 60% support from Europe Creative, this project brings together APIG, Sud Ouest, Wan-Ifra, the Cypriot group Dias Media, the University of South Denmark, the Amsterdam Museum of Image and Sound, the Danish video game creator Portaplay and a German technology development company In2.

The concept was defined in detail in the application for the European call for projects, but while the principle is clear, its development is less so, for legal, editorial and above all practical reasons. Or to put it another way: you can have the right to create content from an existing journalistic production, you can create a new article that makes sense, but the exercise still has to be interesting for the target audience. And only development and the test phase can tell us that.

Time to choose

From a media education perspective, the exercise that allows players to combine blocks of articles to create their own version is of definite interest. On the one hand, it confronts them with the diMiculty of having to leave out certain elements of the story and, on the other, it makes them aware of the impact of these choices on the reader’s understanding of the subject. This fun exercise can be accompanied by explanations of journalism and the rules and mechanisms that apply to a newsroom.

But the main objective of News Arcade is above all to develop a fun format that brings news to a young audience. The diMiculty of the exercise has been to navigate between the educational temptation and practical experimentation. To this end, in the summer of 2023 we created our first article on a general and divisive theme, devoted to a subject likely to resonate for at least a year: the ban on transgender athletes taking part in international athletics competitions.

Concrete case

Working on a concrete case from clear-cut points of view allows the player to make clear-cut choices, while highlighting one or other aspect of the topic. On the other hand, it also shows that not all articles are suitable for the game. The initial article must allow for a confrontation of points of view, with solid and complementary
arguments. We therefore asked ourselves what type of information would be suitable for News Arcade.


Can it cover sport? Is it just for social issues? What about news? There’s no clear-cut answer. Any type of article can be adapted if it has certain structural characteristics: a hook, points of view, quotes to support arguments and counterarguments, etc.

Faced with this completely open field, we felt we needed to find a way of qualifying the elements in order to build a CMS that could incorporate the articles and channel the player’s experience.

We therefore chose to use a nomenclature based on the values of journalism, with a system of tags applied to each element of the story. When the player chooses an argument, it is attached to two journalistic values. The
combination of these values provides a commentary for the player at each stage in the construction of their story.

The 8 values chosen are : Analytical , Contradictory , Empathetic , Entertaining , Impactful , Constructive , Surprising , Trend

Combining the pairs of values gives 28 possible standard responses. For example, combining the two ‘tags’ below gives the following comment: Entertaining + Impactful = A story should have a wide reach. You’ve succeeded in creating a compelling story around an important subject. Well done!

Experimentation

Based on this principle, the development of the CMS was structured around highlighting choices between points of view, points of views and quotes to reinforce them. The player makes four choices in the course of the experiment to arrive at their version of the article, and then has to select one of the suggested titles to complete their journey.

An initial trial of the tool for journalists was organized at Sud Ouest at the end of winter 2024.It quickly became apparent that the CMS was not suitable. The workload involved in transforming an article into a fun experience was far too heavy and arduous for a journalist. The feedback was taken on board and the developers simplified and automated the repetitive tasks as much as possible. The second version of the CMS was tested by three people at Sud Ouest (in French) and five English-speaking journalists from Wan-Ifra. Each journalist had to take part in the session having already chosen an article to work on.

It emerged from this exercise that the CMS still requires a few adjustments. These will be unveiled at the end of May. Above all, the participants noted the game’s potential in terms of media education. They noted the richness of the system, capable of putting anyone in a position of editorial responsibility, measuring the choices made and noting the impact that each choice has on the final production. Finally, these months of testing also revealed an unexpected element. This game encourages the journalists who create the stories for the CMS to analyze their practices, their reflexes and their habits. After several years in journalism, we all develop writing tics, shortcuts or models for constructing our articles. But having to think through each stage independently, to make it understandable and engaging for the general public, forces us to distance ourselves from our automatic behaviour. It might be thought that News Arcade also has a role to play in training journalists, a hypothesis to be explored further if we continue to develop the project thanks to new funding from Europe Creative.

For the moment, the first phase will be completed at the end of May, with adjustments to the CMS and the presentation of the graphics.