Will video games give documentary photography a shot in the arm?

Very interesting to read about some new video games being developed (and there’s the thing: this is still at development stage and we have not seen the market response) that tell important stories using real documentary footage.

In ‘Are Video Games the Future of Storytelling’, Meghan Ahearn references Marcus Bleasdale and his work to create a video game about the impact of mining conflict minerals in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Bleasdale cites his teenage niece and nephew, and the realization that they would likely never see the work he shot on assignment, because it’s placed in media that don’t reach them. “If we [want] to educate them and get them to understand places like DRC, we have to take the issues that we are concerned about to them on the platforms they want to engage in.”
Bleasdale’s video game, called Blood Minerals Congo, highlights an irony to me: some of the very minerals that are being mined in DRC are intended for the gaming devices, tablets  and computers that will keep teenagers and the pre-30-something market away from the original means of reaching them with photojournalism: newspapers.
What a potent way to tell the important stories of the day. To bring good old-fashioned photo journ across the technological divide and into the hands, hearts and minds of the generation who will feel its impact most, and can make the most change.
Ahearn’s article also highlighted a Dutch cowboy outfit, Butch & Sundance, who are using NGO funding primarily, by the looks of it, to develop other games and some really innovative storytelling techniques. I’m interested in one particularly: “The Web-based On the Ground Reporter games are told from the viewpoint of a journalist covering a conflict area; Uganda, Sudan and Afghanistan have already been used as locations in the series. The games exist in a purely photographic world: the images and videos shot on location are used to show the people and places the player interacts with. The games’ stories are based on research or ‘the journalistic stories of others,’ Hekman explains, citing as an example On the Ground Reporter: Uganda, which was based ‘partly on the stories of Josh Kron of The New York Times‘.”
Launch dates are unclear and English availability is not looking like an option but, based on what I’ve seen, saying I am impressed is an understatement. (And yes, yes, naysayers, I know: it’s seriously costly and labour intensive. But so was putting journalists on ships and planes and sending them to war zones in the pre-email days.)
Let’s see where the future goes with this.
Bottom line: #journalismisnotdead!

Journalism now

See the post below, where I’ve just been introduced to a great blog (thanks, Lizane Louw!) at http://www.12thpress.com, where Nicholas Calcott summarises the predicament and our frustrations most articulately.

He references Colin Pantell’s blog (which in turn references Paul Lowe), but all base their discussion on a provocative speech by Stephen Mayes, who recently retired as secretary of World Press Photo. “Mayes questions why people photograph in a way that replicates – why do photojournalists photograph like ‘photojournalists’, why does 90% of their work come from 10% of the world?

I’m writing from Cairo right now, where I’m involved in training for the Twenty Ten project, which ironically has World Press Photo as one of the main partners, and this issue of emulation is one that is bothering me today. On this particular training module (of which there are four across Africa), we have 24 radio and print journalists from 13 different African nations, and yet I am concerned about the lack of variety I am seeing in their assignment work. Is this because they lack professionalism, creativity or initiative? No, certainly not.

This is some of Africa’s brightest talent, with dinner conversations challenging and insightful. The issue I see is exactly what Mayes was referring to: journalists are producing the content that they think they should. They’re following the old rules. In trying to be as professional as possible, they’re adhering to a dated code.

I believe that this code needs to be brought in line with the realities of modern society, rather than our (we, the media) continually lamenting the unravelling of the edges, the blurring of the lines between citizen and professional journalism.

Mayes encouraged photographers to ‘photograph what really, really intrigues you’, commenting that ‘In general what is really missing in photojournalism is work that is really intimate and personal’. I’ll second that. And I believe it applies to all types of journalism, as well as to most modes of photography.