Onwards and upwards for news innovation as new Editors Lab season launches

30 June 2016

Paula Ibarra

In this post we’re talking newsgames, innovation and the mind-boggling prototypes that came out of the Editors Lab Final this month and how they set the tone for the new season of hackdays that’s ahead of us. First stop: the Philippines Editors Lab taking place in Manila on 7–8 July.

Newsgaming is quite a buzzword these days. It lies at the intersection of video games and journalism, creating exciting possibilities for publishers. It has the power to place audiences right at the core of a specific news topic, helping to further understanding in a way that is memorable, interactive and deeply engaging.

Yet, newsgames are uncharted territory that represents an exciting challenge for those willing to explore it.


Let's talk about workflow and experiment.

Latoya Peterson, Deputy Editor of Digital Innovation for ESPN’s The Undefeated and a pioneer in the field of newsgames shared her vision with GEN on the workflow of newsgame creation: “Newsgaming teams are anyone with a journalistic idea to implement. Ideally, journalists, developers, and designers work together, but as time goes on, we will see more journalist-developers and developer-designers. There isn’t a strict recipe, it’s more like a hackathon — assemble a lot of people with awesome skills and let them find a way.” Latoya also served on the Editors Lab Final jury.

Marcus Bosch, founder of Good Evil Game Studio, agrees. “News organisations shouldn’t ask a triple-A studio and invest millions for doing their very first news game,” he said in an interview with GEN, “but they should experiment and come up with little small things, and maybe they should attend a hackathon and try things out.”



Marcus Bosch and Latoya Peterson led a bootcamp session at the GEN Summit 2016 entitled Newsgaming: A New Media Playground.


June 15–17 saw the crowning of the fourth season of Editors Lab hackdays, in parallel with the GEN Summit 2016. After considerable deliberation, team Tempo (Indonesia) was crowned the winner. They embodied Latoya and Marcus’ advice on how to experiment with newsgames. “We come from legacy media. We are a weekly magazine, so being in digital media is quite new stuff. We have to learn to work with each other — programmer, designer and journalist — so being in a hackathon like this, I think, strengthened the collaboration spirit, and that spirit we will bring home and hopefully it will change the newsroom,” said Wahyu Dhyatmika, investigative journalist at the Indonesian weekly.



William Rince, Adam Firdaus and Wahyu Dhyatmika from Tempo (Indonesia) took home the winning title with their prototype Green Saviour. Photo: Global Editors Network


These 11 mind-boggling newsgaming prototypes set the tone for future hackdays.

The impressive quality of the prototypes produced in the Editors Lab Final 2016 set the bar high for Season 5, which will kick off with the Philippines Editors Lab on 7–8 July in Manila, hosted in cooperation with Rappler, Google and the Society of Publishers in Asia (SOPA).

At the final, eleven talented teams representing Argentina, Australia, Austria, China, Finland, Indonesia, Italy, Romania, Slovakia, Tunisia and the United States traveled from all corners of the world to compete for a chance to bring home the coveted title of Editors Lab Champion. The Tempo team which won the first prize was closely followed by the hometown team, APA (Austria). Finally, RTVS (Slovakia) and Caixin Media (China) tied for third place.

The teams pitched their prototypes in front of a jury panel of seasoned media experts and newsgaming authorities, which included Cherisse Datu, inaugural fellow of American University’s JoLT (Journalism Leadership Transformation) Initiative; Lara Setrakian, Co-Founder and Executive Editor at News Deeply; Latoya Peterson, Deputy Editor of Digital Innovation for ESPN’s The Undefeated and GEN’s very own Director of Programmes Evangéline de Bourgoing.

Below is a round-up of the eleven impressive prototypes that were developed during the Editors Lab Final 2016.


First Place: Tempo (Indonesia) — Green Saviour: Stop the Haze!


Nearly 2.1 million hectares of forest were lost last year in one of the worst forest fires that Indonesia has seen in years. Aside from the atrocious material losses, the tragedy left behind harrowing levels of air pollution in its wake — almost 1.75 billion tons of carbon dioxide were released into the atmosphere (the amount equivalent to the annual waste of Japan) and more than 500,000 people suffered from respiratory illnesses as a byproduct of the crisis. Green Saviour challenges players to swiftly extinguish the fires that pop up across the entire Indonesian territory with water bombs or artificial rain. After, they can replant the forests that are left destroyed and jail any criminals that appear to ensure that the fires won’t restart. Despite the game’s simplicity, users will quickly find themselves overwhelmed. And with somewhat unpromising prospects for this year’s dry season, creators Wahyu Dhyatmika, Adam Firdaus and William Rince, hope to educate young city dwellers on the consequences and prevention measures of forest fires. Play Green Saviour here.


Second Place: APA (Austria) — Welfare Simulator

Welfaresimulator2 1

An ongoing debate at the forefront of Austria’s political circuit is the issue of whether or not to reduce the nation’s welfare budget, which became significantly less restrictive after a 2010/11 reform. Since then, the number of adherents has grown by 45%. In Welfare Simulator, players must attempt to get by with the monthly benefits they receive under Austria’s minimum income scheme (Mindestsicherung) — which currently assists more than 250 thousand Austrians — over eight months (the average period of adhesion). In Welfare Simulator, the challenge is to balance a limited income and welfare payments with high costs of living and life’s contingencies. Mark Eder, Christian Haslacher and Erhard Zrust, the minds behind the newsgame, even succeeded in factoring emotional stress into the equation by adding sound effects that resemble a heartbeat’s mounting rhythm as players come closer to declaring bankruptcy or burning out. Play Welfare Simulator here.


Third Place: RTVS (Slovakia) — What Would You Take?


What Would You Take? is an immersive experience that provides an intimate look into the stories of refugees who have been forced to quickly abandon their homes in an attempt to escape the imminent threat of war. Players are tasked with finding a prized possession in a crowded room in only a few seconds. Every item uncovers a refugee’s escape story and the object’s personal significance to him or her. Featuring footage from war-torn regions in the Middle East and sourcing real stories from care.org, the game’s creators Michal Katuška, Peter Matal and Peter Valovič succeed in capturing the horrors that those caught in the crossfire must go through in a way that is immersive, engaging and deeply touching. 


Third Place: Caixin Media (China) — Think Like a Mayor


The unprecedented economic growth that has marked the Chinese landscape during the past two decades has unfortunately been accompanied by staggering levels of air pollution, especially in metropolitan areas. Think Like a Mayor’s creators Yuan Ren, Chunyuan Wei and Meng Wei have built a simulation game that gives players the chance to step back in time and attempt to prevent pollution before the timer reaches 2016. Players must explore sources of pollution in urban areas and balance the pros, cons and hidden costs of implementing measures like banning coal heating in homes and shutting down any production centres that fail to comply with environmental standards. Players are rewarded based on air quality, tax revenue and overall happiness of the city’s residents, highlighting the factors that underlie the issuance of effective environmental policies. Play Think Like a Mayor here.


Mic (United States) — Bathroom Dash


The HB2 Bill — or the “Bathroom Bill” — regulates public toilet use in North Carolina based on the sex stated on a person’s birth certificate, and is therefore seen by many as an outright obstruction in the battle to guarantee LGBT rights in the United States. In response, Mic’s Ryan Campbell, Sarah Singer and Tri Vo created Bathroom Dash, a game centered on educating the public on the unique struggles affecting the trans community. Closing in on the recent controversy surrounding the policy, users must attempt to navigate the world as a trans person trying to access a public bathroom that is aligned with their gender identity. The objective is to (literally) jump through every obstacle and hurdle, which become progressively harder as the game advances. After every round, players can learn about real instances in which a person’s rights were blatantly violated as a result of transphobia, and are invited to take action by signing an online petition. Play Bathroom Dash here.


Yle (Finland) — Game of Oil


The dips and surges of oil prices may be hard to understand for those who are not familiar with the inner workings of global commodities markets. Game of Oil simplifies an enormously complex and dynamic topic by tasking users with a simple enough challenge: buying oil and selling it at a higher price. The game closely adheres to reality and highlights major events that have impacted oil prices during the last half century, from 1956 — with the Suez Crisis — until the present. Ville Juutilainen, Juha Rissanen and Teemo Tebest, Game of Oil’s creators, aim to provide a fresh, no-frills-added gaming experience for desktop and mobile. Play Game of Oil here.


Clarín (Argentina) — FoodLoose


A third of global food production is wasted, yet there still are regions of the world where famine seems to be the norm and malnutrition is a serious health concern. Stella Bin, Juan Pablo Kutianski and Cecilia Tombesi from the Argentinian newspaper Clarín decided to shine a light on this unfortunate imbalance with FoodLoose. Providing an inside look at the global food production chain, FoodLoose tasks players with identifying, acknowledging and addressing food loss at every stage of the cycle: from agricultural production to household consumption. Play FoodLoose here.


The West Australian(Australia) — LIFESAVER!


More than one hundred swimmers drowned in Australian beaches last year and over 12,000 had to be rescued by volunteer lifeguards. A lack of swimming skills, proper training programs aimed at families or just utter unfamiliarity with the many risks oceans can pose may be to blame for such numbers. LIFESAVER!, created by Joe Hardy, Sophia Lewis and Ben Martin, aims at educating beachgoers by placing them in the role of volunteer lifeguards who must act swiftly in the face of shark attacks and drowning swimmers and rock fishers. Aimed at a wide audience — from schoolchildren to tourists and migrants — players are encouraged to take real action after every round, either by enrolling in a local swim school, learning more about shark attacks and what are the best practices for rock fishing or even applying to become a volunteer lifeguard. Play LIFESAVER! Here.


Gazeta de Sud (Romania) — Republic of Dementia


“A country is made out of millions of presidents,” is the premise upon which Adrian Balcan, Liviu Barbulescu and Valentin Tudor built Republic of Dementia. This newsgame gives players a chance to take on the role of president and make decisions that will have a direct impact on their nation. Players are prompted to take a stance on issues ranging from sending troops to fight on foreign battlefields, to accepting refugees or joining NATO. Each policy immediately influences three indicators (State of the Economy, Social Stability and Freedom & Rule of Law) and — ultimately — players’ chances of being reelected. In the end, players must aim at concluding their presidential terms with success and stay in power for as long as possible. Play Republic of Dementia here.


19 Million Project (International) — You Better Home


The one truly multinational team in the final, the 19 Million Project team gathered three brilliant minds spanning three continents. Anna Cordioli (Italy), Andrés Snitcofsky (Argentina) and Nadia Tromp (South Africa) decided to focus on the issue of global warming and how to combat it. Rather than leaving the solution solely in the hands of policymakers, You Better Home invites players to be more proactive and acknowledge the steps they can take, starting at home. Players are tasked with building their own virtual houses with a wide range of materials and in one of several types of land plots available. This requires balancing out costs versus comfort — while some materials may be more expensive, they can also have a smaller environmental footprint and be more long lasting. Once construction is completed, users are left to witness whether or not their homes will be left standing after the harsh winter. See You Better Home in action here.


Polytechnique Sousse (Tunisia) — Nobel ERA


The only university team in the final, Polytechnique Sousse students Mayssa Chebbi, Mouhamed Mziou and Safa Noaoui aimed to complement coverage on the topic of Nobel laureates. Featuring simple and intuitive gameplay designed for younger users, Nobel ERA allows players to explore a virtual world where they can freely interact with past Nobel laureates. As players enter each building, they can meet past laureates and be rewarded with points and “quote boxes” that provide a brief recount of achievements in the field.


GEN has successfully organised more than 50 hackdays in 4 years. Season 4 saw hackdays in Europe, America and Africa, and brought us to Asia for the first time. Exciting things are in store for Editors Lab Season 5. If you would be interested in hosting hackdays at your newsroom in cooperation with GEN, please get in touch with our team.

Evangeline de Bourgoing: edebourgoing[at]globaleditorsnetwork.org

Sarah Toporoff: stoporoff[at]globaleditorsnetwork.org