Play, Newsgames and 
Interactive Journalism

Frankenbike is best described as a prototype of a newsgame. Newsgames are a rising genre of interactive journalism that attempts to apply journalistic practices to game design theory. Notable for their use of roleplay and the simulation of systems at the heart of a particular news event, they offer a framework for critical and empathetic news commentary– the opportunity for audiences to experience nuanced and situated stories not necessarily accessible through traditional news formats. Though major news outlets have begun to explore the potentials of this genre (in fact, the most viewed news story on Facebook in 2011 was the BBC newsgame, ‘The World at 7 Billion’), most newsgames are still produced by indie and amateur game developers. Within this space, the visual synthesis and interpretative skill sets of visual communicators may provide a bridging link between the fields and contribute to the growing discourse around such alternative news platforms.

However, this project’s exploration into play has its roots in an  experiment conducted in the early stages of my research into the Sydney share bike phenomenon, a design fiction titled The Bureau of Light Transport. At this stage, having now been known to my peers as ‘The Share Bike Girl’, I had become the recipient of a steadily growing data set of photographs of share bikes that my peers had encountered in their day-to-day life. To help me process the images I was receiving, I created a persona of the ‘Council Bipedal Examiner’ of The NSW Bureau of Light Transport, a fictional regulatory body. In this narrative, I would fill out incident reports for each time a ‘citizen’ notified our office about a bike in need of attention.


The design of this form emulates a 1920’s Massachusetts autopsy prop designed for a
fan-created archive of scenarios for the popular role-playing game Call of Cthulhu by Dean Adelaide.
The autopsy format was chosen in response to my peers often referring
to the share bikes as being ‘dumped’ and ‘trashed’.

This act of role playing and fiction-generation allowed for distance between myself as researcher and my research subject– an effective means of dealing with the large amounts of data I had received. It also became apparent that the bureauracratic process facilitated by these documents had begun to foster a particular vocabulary and voice of authority in the way they were filled out, eventuating in a specific relationship of care over these mass-produced metal frames.

This formed the foundation of a broader provocation about the impact of play in the way people engaged with the objects (share bikes) around them, beyond simplistic/sensational representations from the public sphere. 

(cr. Anita Gallagher 2018)

Further Reading 

Bogost, I., Ferrari, S. & Schweizer, B. 2010, Newsgames: journalism at play, MIT Press, Cambridge.

Bogost, I. 2016, Play anything: The pleasure of limits, the uses of Boredom, and the Secret of Games, Basic Books, New York.

(cr. Anita Gallagher 2018)