Earlier this month, I got to talk a bit about my line of research on gamification in journalism. Journalists often look to new technologies to address current problems, so gaming technologies would naturally be one considered. I was thankful to have the opportunity to share a bit about this research with the Department of Communication at University of Vienna.
Gaming has been a fascinating object to journalists for years and for understandable reasons! Journalism often looks to new technologies to address deficiencies in the field: journalists need a digital manner of making money that works and journalists need a better way to reach audiences who are problematically tuning out. Gaming of course brings in a ton of money. Globally gaming brings in twice the amount of money the movie industry does (pre-pandemic numbers), and the audience for gaming is now nearly ubiquitous among younger generations.
That said, there are technical deficiencies in gaming related to those two topics that are worthy of consideration.
Great presentation by Raul Conill-Ferrer and Valerie Belair-Gagnon at ICA last week where they talked about how journalists have a keen interest in trying to adapt micropayments to fund journalism. They found that the individual investment in a story/journalist sort of results in a stakeholder relationship. This is pretty similar to what I’ve found in game studies research, where the micropayments in games create an attachment that make it difficult for gamers to leave. In the case of gaming of course this is a bit problematic, because people tend to spend beyond their means and it tends to draw in the people who can least afford to pay.
Now how about that audience? This will surprise exactly none of you, but gaming like many other forms of media appears to be structured in ways that lead to just really unfortunate representations of women and people of color. Often times this related to the structures of power in the system and/or to agency.
Journalists evaluate gaming being an incredibly valuable medium in terms of its functionality. Journalists see it as a path to excellent interactivity and to a stronger connection to the audience. In one study with Tim Vos, we looked at about 10 years of metajournalistic discourse, and do see it as compatible with journalism.
See Perreault, G., & Vos, T. (2020). Metajournalistic discourse on the rise of gaming journalism. New Media & Society, 22(1), 159-176.https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1461444819858695
That said, journalists did feel that they had a hard time really getting a handle on the technology in part because the coverage of it was done so poorly.
See Perreault, G. P., & Vos, T. P. (2018). The GamerGate controversy and journalistic paradigm maintenance. Journalism, 19(4), 553-569.
Gamification here means exactly what you think it means, which is the adaptation of gaming to various fields. And it has proven “financially successful” in various fields. That’s said, its worth considering the argument of Ian Bogost, who’s probably the preminant scholar of journalism and gaming, where he argues that “gamification is bullshit”—props always to scholars who can work swear words into titles. Its bullshit, he argues, because gamified products are neither full the game nor fully the product as its intended. Now in his piece he’s talking about advertising, not news, but the lessons are worth consideration.
Largely, journalists argued that gamification doesn’t work—in agreement with Bogost—but they saw news as the exception. They agreed that gamification was sort of manipulating people to buy into a product, but when applied to journalism that means that were manipulating people to be “news literate?” It doesn’t seem like a problem.
See Vos, T. P., & Perreault, G. P. (2020). The discursive construction of the gamification of journalism. Convergence, 26(3), 470-485.
All of this is to point out that journalism sees the value in gamification even if it may not be entirely cognizant of the pitfalls.