Journalist Aims to Create War Reporting Simulator
CREDIT: Defiant Development
One of the most hardcore video games about war aims to hurl players into the middle of a firefight armed only with a camera. Creators of the upcoming game called "Warco" hope the simulated experience can even help real journalists train for the struggle between capturing a story and sheer survival in a warzone.
The game is the brainchild of Tony Maniaty, an Australian journalist whose past work includes reporting on the start of East Timor's bloody conflict in 1975. Five of his TV colleagues were killed, and Maniaty fled before Indonesian troops invaded. Now he has teamed up with Morgan Jaffit and Defiant Development, a Brisbane-based game developer, to make a virtual experience that owes more to high-end military simulations rather than popular games such as those in the "Call of Duty" or "Battlefield" series.
Players take on the role of a journalist covering the fictitious African country of Benouja a journey inspired by Maniaty's personal experience and the "Arab Spring" revolutions sweeping the Middle East. Both Maniaty and Jaffit took the time to tell InnovationNewsDaily about what gamers can expect.
InnovationNewsDaily: What inspired you to create this experience as a game?
Tony Maniaty: The actual idea of a war correspondent game came to me in 2008, when I was watching my two sons play a typical PC video war game, a FPS (first person shooter) game where the weapon is brought up to the shoulder and players take aim at targets through a sight, and shoot. The correlation with a frontline TV camera was obvious: you're in a warzone, you're carrying your 'tool of trade', you bring it up to your shoulder, look through the viewfinder and 'shoot' but you're shooting footage, not bullets. You're shooting the story, not the enemy.
I knew the TV news industry worldwide was grappling with a serious problem in hostile environments like Iraq and Afghanistan, losing a lot of people in frontline action. It was a life-and-death issue I'd confronted myself as a young ABC reporter in East Timor back in the 1970s, when five of my TV colleagues had been killed, and more recently I'd completed my master's thesis on television reporting of war from Vietnam to Iraq, so I knew the problems well and was searching about for a practical way of introducing the risks and dangers of frontline reporting to young journalists.
InnovationNewsDaily: How much does the war correspondent experience inform the game?
Maniaty: The primary aim was to build a game prototype that reflected the reality of flying into a war zone as a TV reporter, and being confronted almost immediately as you step off the plane with the brutality and danger of war. At that stage you thinking, 'Shit, how do I do my job here and stay alive?' There isn't much room for fantasy. You can't jump 60 meters away with a flick of the controller and escape the consequences of being there, you're stuck behind a truck trying to get footage and to avoid being hit. If people want fantasy, they won't find it in Warco. This is about war in the real world, which is terrifying.
InnovationNewsDaily: Beyond the experience, what are the main goals of the game? How does the player win?
Morgan Jaffit: At each point, the player has some key objectives in terms of story elements they're trying to capture footage of which inform their decisions. However, the great majority of the story will be composed of the secondary story elements they manage to film. We've made sure that each environment is filled with interesting things going on simultaneously, which requires you to choose what you're going to focus on. As a result, the type of story you can tell is changed by your decisions. At each point, it's less about "winning" and more about what story you decide to broadcast to the world, and the sorts of risks you took to get it.
InnovationNewsDaily: Can the player's reporting influence the story progression at all?
Jaffit: I'm a big believer in consequence in games. It's important that the players' actions have meaning and impact. However, this isn't going to be a story where your actions turn the tide of the war. The impact of your decisions and the stories you report takes place at the human level, in the ways the people around you react and the opportunities you're presented with.
InnovationNewsDaily: How much interaction can the player have with friendly or hostile characters in the game?
Jaffit: You'll have opportunities to interview people in detail, to try and save the wounded or search for missing people. There are many turning points in every level that influence the decisions the player makes, that then roll on to influence later levels and environments. We're focusing on a tangled web of interactions and characters that proceed through the course of the game.
InnovationNewsDaily: The U.S. military uses game-like simulators to train soldiers . Can Warco help new journalists train for the real thing?
Maniaty: Of course there's no way of replacing the ultimate experience of actually going into the 'hot zone', watching soldiers at war and even being shot at yourself. But games can be frighteningly realistic these days, and Warco's big plus in training terms is that we can introduce the risks in highly random ways, throw at players all kinds of dangers unexpectedly and watch their reactions don't forget, it's more than just staying alive, if you wanted that all you'd have to do it move further back to safety, but that isn't going to help you get the story on film. To do that, you have to get close up.
As the famous war photographer Robert Capa said, 'If your pictures aren't good enough, you're not close enough'. That's true, but it's also an invitation to danger, and not very sound advice if you're trying to stay alive. Capa himself was killed. The trick in reality, as in Warco, is to balance the risks against the consequences, and to know when to stay and when to go, when to pull out. Ultimately, no story is worth a life.
If the Warco game as a training tool prevents even one journalist from getting killed, then we'll have achieved something important.