As the use of mobile phones spreads through society, traditional news consumption is steadily being substituted by innovative environments and behaviors, sparking new ritual forms of media consumption. Additionally, video games have become a pervasive type of media that attracts the big majority of youth, sometimes displacing news consumption. For this reason, several news platforms have started to introduce game mechanics into their web-based systems or mobile apps creating a new storytelling format for news consumption. Since habit strength is the most powerful predictor of news consumption, the goal is to not only engage news consumers, but also provide a personalized news experience, a sense of relatedness, and persuade users to foster the habit of consuming news regularly.
While digital news media outlets have already started using gamification techniques within their services, there is a large research gap in the intersection of journalism and news, and gamification and persuasive technologies.
This paper aims to discern how digital news media have introduced gamification within their online platforms in order to re-invent several fronts of the journalistic practice. This assessment is primarily done through four case studies of gamified news: The Guardian, The Times of India, the Bleacher Report, and Al-Jazeera.
These case studies provide the room for discussion on the potential use of game mechanics within journalism, and gamification of news can potentially re-invent journalism, with an ambivalent set of results. On the one hand a gamified news service has the potential to engage users to read news and most importantly, to foster an intrinsic motivation to consume news while creating a habit out of it. Additionally, introducing game mechanics to news websites could introduce a profitable business model, by increasing readership, making it a service much more attractive to advertisers. On the other hand news outlets could use a gamified experience to exploit their users, either by manipulating their reading choices through game mechanics, or by monetizing the content and data they generate while they interact with the system. This could become a serious privacy risk involved with tracking the users’ every move and owning such data. It is at least ethically dubious. Furthermore, the interface and storytelling format could become the central aspect, relegating news to a secondary role, or delivering only the news that fit the narratives shaping the gamified system.
Theoretically, the gamification process is meant to deliver a new format of storytelling creating a news experience with relevant, targeted news, embedded in a social environment, while keeping the quality of the news intact, and always aiming for a broadening of views, avoiding selective exposure, and emphasizing improvement of the users’ knowledge. Ultimately, the goal is to generate a feeling of competence, autonomy, and relatedness to generate the intrinsic motivation of consuming news in the user through persuasive design and game mechanics. However, as this paper will demonstrate, the current way of implementing gamification within journalism points to ambivalent results, where the driving forces of the implementation process are a mixture of an attempt to engage users and a set of commercial motivations.
Journalism practice, gamification, commercialization, digital journalism, storytelling
Shaping the Future of News Media, the International Conference on Integrated Journalism Education, Research and Innovation, 17-19 June, 2015