Game journalism — using games to inform audiences about current news events — has become an established form. But few games are created to simulate the experience of journalists themselves — and even fewer still are launched while the author is still a student. In a guest post for OJB, Sania Aziz spoke to Turkish journalism student Ömer Furkan Aktaş, the creator of one such game: Ethics: Journalist’s Way.
Aktaş explains the motivation behind the game:
“I saw the problems of the journalists in Turkey and in the world. And I designed this game to tell people about them. So it’s not to parody Turkey, but I wanted to reflect the problems of journalists all around the world.”
The game puts the player in the shoes of a journalist working for a media company in the fictional country of the Shaodor Republic (although all the names and characters in the game have English names).
The journalist is assigned tasks by his/her editor, and then has to choose between two opposite options by swiping right or left.
“When journalists try to make people happy, that’s not a journalist”
But there is a dark side to the game: nobody can really “win”.
“If the player moves with his conscience, he cannot win. That was my purpose. When journalists move with their conscience, the system leaves them in a difficult position. When they try to make people happy, [that’s] not a journalist, it’s just a puppet.”
There are only two options to choose from in any given task, and morally, both options may seem like the wrong thing to do.
“This is absolutely true. A journalist may want to do the right thing, but this is not always possible. I think the culprit here is not the journalist. It is the system that is guilty. Sometimes you go on a road and every choice on that road is bad.”
As if there was not enough pressure on the journalist already, things take quite a turn when the journalist’s wife threatens to leave him. Aktaş laughs when I ask about this point in the game.
“Actually, his wife wants to protect her child. Journalism is a job where you don’t know what will happen tomorrow. The wife actually represents anxiety.”
Creating the game
The game was created using Unity 3D, a game engine that uses C++ and C# and can be used cross-platform on mobile, desktop, console, and web plugins.
“Nowadays it is easy to learn any software,” says Aktaş.
“There are many online training sites and YouTube videos. For example, there are a lot of tutorials about c # for encoding. Or there are many courses to learn about Unity.”
But the game wasn’t just a technical challenge: Aktaş says he read stories from many countries as part of his research for the game.
“I looked through the archives and scandals, interviews, and articles. I’ve been doing research for six months. I was ‘fed’ all over the world — but I didn’t do any academic research on game stories. I’m a gamer so I knew how to write a narrative.”
Creating game journalism without a budget
When it comes to most game journalism money is a key issue: most journalists do not have the adequate finances and resources to develop game apps, and those organisations which do must justify the investment carefully.
But Aktaş created the game without any budget.
“That’s why I asked my friends for help, but this was not a request for money.
“For example, my friend made the music for the game. And because my English grammar is not very good, my girlfriend did the translation into English. I created the visuals and the story.”
The app sells for $0.99 in the Google Play Store. Could a journalist be able to raise finances using game apps and other technology?
“This is unfortunate,” says Aktaş.
“It’s very difficult to sell because I don’t have the budget to do advertising. It has been a tiring experience for me.
“It’s possible to make money because everything is digital now. But we have to learn some more things like advertising and marketing strategy. And I’m just learning this.”
Games and narrative storytelling in journalism
Still, Aktaş feels comfortable with games as a genre.
“The game is a good narrative tool. You make your own decisions when you play. So it’s easier to feel empathy for the people they’re playing as.”
And Aktaş doesn’t believe that games trivialise the subjects of their stories.
“They don’t trivialise the problems of persecuted and misunderstood people, because as a gamer I have played a lot of games. [and] I was upset or rejoiced about what characters were experiencing when playing. I could empathise with them. My game is also meant to lead people to think.
“Games are not always for fun. Sometimes they teach us a lot.”