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Transdisciplinary storytelling at RTA Media and Journalism

Digital storytelling reaches new heights when video games and virtual reality come into play
By: Asmaa Toor
August 17, 2021

School of Journalism instructor Anita Li, external link, opens in new window and RTA School of Media professor Kristopher Alexander, external link, opens in new window combined their areas of expertise to discuss how video games can intersect with journalism to enhance storytelling in the future. 

Li, who teaches a journalism innovation course to graduate students in the master of journalism program, said she made it a priority to invite guest speakers who are innovators in the media landscape to speak in her classes. In a technology and digital platform focused class, Li catalyzed a conversation on the potential for increasingly creative and engaging storytelling using video game and VR technologies. 

Anita Li wearing a white shirt looking into the camera

Anita Li teaches a journalism innovation course to students in the master of journalism program, where she incorporates video game and VR technologies for engaging storytelling

My goal was to give the class a chance to try new media to get a taste and encourage students to think about all these different approaches to the way you can produce journalism and do newsgathering. You don't have to take the traditional routes

Anita Li

One of the guest speakers, known as the “video games prof,” Dr. Kristopher Alexander discussed how gaming and modern storytelling go hand-in-hand. 

“Kristopher and I were talking about the way live streaming and gaming platforms can modernize journalism, or broadcasting in particular,” she said. “We discussed how on Twitch and these kinds of platforms, you can employ audience engagement very easily because you're talking to audiences in real-time. It lends itself to more interactivity and engagement in journalism, which is really important.”

Storytelling in an ever-evolving digital media landscape

Although the journalism innovation course isn’t technology-focused, Li said she wanted her students to become exposed to non-traditional methods of storytelling.

“I really wanted to give my students a taste of these amazing digital storytelling formats (VR and gaming), in journalism as a way to encourage exploration and experimentation,” Li said. “My goal was to give the class a chance to try new media to get a taste and encourage students to think about all these different approaches to the way you can produce journalism and do newsgathering. You don't have to take the traditional routes.”

As a professor who teaches video game design in non-traditional ways, Alexander said it’s important to connect with students in a way that allows them to use technology, such as video game platforms, to reimagine new ways of producing and consuming information.

Many people think about incorporating video games as a means of adding fun, but the components of video games, and video game theories that exist outside of the playing of games, is where the true strength of the medium lies

Kristopher Alexander

Courtesy of Dr. Kristopher Alexander

“Our student population, statistically, is made up primarily of gamers. We need to connect with them on their level pedagogically, and curicurlary, specifically from the perspectives of engagement and interactivity,” he said. “Many people think about incorporating video games as a means of adding fun, but the components of video games, and video game theories that exist outside of the playing of games, is where the true strength of the medium lies.”

Merging disciplines for enhanced learning outcomes

Learning from Alexander about video games and audience engagement, Li said she began to think about gaming from a journalistic perspective and in ways that can capitalize on interactivity as a way of evolving the practice of storytelling. 

“It really reinforced for me that gaming has many applications beyond just playing video games,” she said. “It made me want to explore topics like challenging existing broadcasting norms or even exploring new ways to broadcast news on a platform like Twitch.” 

Kristopher Alexander wearing a white shirt with multicoloured squares

RTA School of Media Professor Kristopher Alexander. Alexander often uses video games to teach course concepts as a way to increase student engagement

Video game design is precisely where storytelling meets creativity. You cannot build a game without telling some kind of story via audio, text, video & interactivity

Kristopher Alexander

Video games and storytelling, as Alexander noted, have a lot more in common than meets the eye. One commonality is that they both thrive off of interactivity and engagement. 

“Video game design is precisely where storytelling meets creativity. You cannot build a game without telling some kind of story via audio, text, video & interactivity,” he explained. “That last point, interactivity is what pushes video games beyond traditional media, as it puts its consumers in the seat of the story, immersed in ways that are not possible via other forms of entertainment.”

Collapsing silos with transdisciplinary approaches

As educators, innovators and storytellers, Li and Alexander both use their disciplines as a way to inspire the future of digital storytelling. Merging two areas of expertise and finding common ground allows for forward thinking approaches to news sharing and storytelling in a non-traditional, yet immersive way.

To learn more about gaming in the journalistic context, read The Other Wave, external link, opens in new window newsletter by Anita Li. 

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