During the initial protests and riots in Ferguson, Missouri the mainstream media was largely absent. In their place was a large number of so called ‘citizen journalists’, average people armed usually only with a mobile phone, taking images and video which they would upload to the internet. While much of this footage was raw, on-the-scene reporting, these citizen journalists nonetheless lacked the training to present what they were seeing in an unbiased way.
When it comes to reporting, framing is everything.
This new dynamic inspired indie games creator and animator Nicky Case to create a novel method to show the power of citizen journalism. Frustrated by the poor coverage of the initial events at Ferguson, and motivated by a desire to show people how the media can ‘frame’ still photos or video to present a very biased version of events, he decided to create an interactive computer game to teach people the power of their smartphones.
The game itself involves a 2-D sidescrolling mechanic, where a citizen journalist navigates a protest situation intentionally similar to what happened at Ferguson. The player controlled character can take photos with a controllable ‘frame’, which allows them to show police or protesters in a positive or negative light.
Should your photos cater to the interests of the police, they will give you better treatment, and allow you better locations to film from, while doing the same for the protesters will earn similar privileges. In addition, through a unique game mechanic, the photos you take actually can influence the protest situation. Photos of police violence can further inflame the situation and lead to a greater level of violence and rioting, while more positive photos will result in increased calm.
Leaving aside questions on whether it is still “too soon” for a game to be made about this tragic event, it nonetheless has education as its core message. Through the course of the game, a player will learn not just about how the media can manipulate public opinion through the use of framing, but also the ideals of ‘journalistic responsibility. Who knows, maybe these sorts of games will eventually empore future citizen journalists to be both better reporters, as also to beat the mainstream media at their own game.
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