Bloomberg has expanded its philosophy of creative storytelling into the UK’s EU quagmire with an 8-bit, choose your own adventure Brexit game. But don’t expect simplistic content – the script was written by the publication’s political journalists to represent the constant war games in parliament.
Bloomberg’s graphics team had previously experimented with gamifying complex issues – political or otherwise – with The American Mall Game, a retro challenge that aimed to demonstrate the difficulties of running a brick and mortar store in the age of Amazon.
Jeremy Diamond, an American in-house developer and designer, was sent to the London bureau to augment the principle of “creative storytelling through visuals” with colleagues across the pond. Meanwhile, Rob Hutton, Bloomberg’s UK political correspondent, had been toying with the idea of a ‘choose your adventure game’ to explain the complexities and dichotomies of the UK’s Brexit deal.
He began writing the interactive project before the now infamous cabinet meeting at Chequers, which resulted in the resignations of a number of ministers including Boris Johnson.
“I'd devised a version of the game which was on the assumption that Theresa May would never make a decision [between a hard and soft Brexit deal],” said Hutton. “I was trying to show the incentives are so strongly against her coming down on one side or the other.
“And then to everyone's surprise she did come down on one side at Chequers. So I had to tear up everything I'd done. But suddenly that almost made it a lot easier because at that point we could see a path.”
Hutton and his colleagues stationed themselves at Portcullis House in Westminster drafting the flow chart structure of what would become ‘Pick Your Own Brexit’. They would catch MPs walking through Parliament to hear their thoughts on the multitude of timelines created by a multitude of binary decisions.
“We'd say to them, ‘right, what do you think happens here?’ And they'd say, ‘well that wouldn't work because of this. And then you'd add an extra box. We got through a couple of sheets of A3 just full of boxes and one of them was a list of all the people who might run for the leadership and every time anyone came past they'd look at it and ask. ‘why aren't I on it?’ And so, you'd add a name to the list of people who might run for leadership.”
Once the script had been finalised it was sent to Diamond’s team to be gamified. The graphic inspiration came from an old version of King’s Quest, with the likes of Theresa May’s car-crash podium performance, Larry the 10 Downing Street cat and Boris Johnson’s (multiple) Telegraph columns turned into 8-bit cartoons.
Editorial edits continued up until the 11th hour, although Hutton admitted he found the craft of gamer copywriting came quite naturally.
“We now have a much more informal writing style [at Bloomberg], so it wasn't a huge shift to be honest,” he said. “We did at one stage make up imaginary members of parliament for the leadership contest – I think it was Amber Javid vs Penny Reece-Mogg or something. Jeremy and I both liked that idea, but it was pointed out to us that people outside of Britain might not get the joke.”
The game has proven successful so far: when it went live yesterday morning (22 August) it was racking up more traffic than Bloomberg’s coverage of the Donald Trump/Michael Cohen debacle. Could an ‘Impeach Trump’ game be forthcoming, then?
Hutton is sceptical. “I think the format works really well for situations where politicians are wargaming things. This came about when you realise that in Westminster, everyone is war gaming. I don't know that you would do with Trump, or something. What you need is [a situation] you've got lots of different actors.”