While we’ve been living in the “citizen journalist” era for a while now, the recent events and controversies in Ferguson, Missouri, have reminded us yet again how everyday people with smartphones have redefined the way we take in breaking news — particularly with the images they use those phones to make and distribute across social media.
Professional news photographers and videographers — and savvy media consumers — know that the way an image is framed can have a huge effect on how the story is interpreted. But since a nationwide seminar on that subject isn’t plausible, perhaps there’s some other way to make more of us aware that while every picture tells a story, not every picture tells the whole story.
How about a game? That may not sound likely. But it’s exactly what indie game developer Nicky Case is working on, and his idea makes surprising sense.
As he related recently to The Atlantic, Case had already started experimenting with a journalist game concept (which wasn’t working out) when the Ferguson story came along. It gave him a new idea, for a setting in which the player moves through an environment defined by conflict between police and protesters — and, in effect, takes pictures.
Will the images tell one side of the story while obscuring another interpretation? What are the consequences? That’s what the game is about.
“Take cop-friendly photos, and the cops could be more friendly towards you, and let you have access to areas you wouldn’t have otherwise,” Case told The Atlantic. “Or take extremist photos, and you will personally turn a peaceful protest into an all-out violent conflict.”
Case — who has a compelling track record of unconventional game-making — has released a few images from this still-untitled work in progress, and it’s pretty clear that the real point isn’t just to find an entertaining way to educate citizen journalists — but to educate those of us who take in their handiwork. Which is, at this point, everybody.
It’s likely that by the time the project is complete, the Ferguson story will have faded from the headlines. But I have a feeling something else will come along to make the game feel fresh all over again, whenever it’s released. The way the news cycle works now, Case’s idea is going to be a timely one for the foreseeable future — for better or for worse.