Credit: Image by Pierre Morel, courtesy of The Pixel Hunt

In January 2010, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake shook Haiti, just 25 kilometres from the densely-populated capital Port-au-Prince. Oxfam estimates that more than 220,000 people were killed, 300,000 injured and over 1.3 million made homeless as a result.

Realising the scale of the disaster, UN officials promised $10 billion dollars (£5.8 billion) in aid to rebuild the country and help its devastated population but, four years later, questions are still being asked as to why the social and economic problems persist.

"The scars left by the January 2010 earthquake are hardly visible anymore," wrote French journalist Jean Abbiateci in the recently published 'Rebuilding Haiti', a project combining long-form journalism, multimedia and gaming elements.

"The refugees have left their tents, or have been forced out," he continued. "The rubble has been cleared off the streets. The NGOs have left. But the pre-existing issues, such as poverty, health and unemployment, remain."
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Screengrab from Rebuilding Haiti

Lacking a global panacea to the effects of natural disasters and socio-economic woes, Abbiateci spent 17 days in Haiti with photographer Pierre Morel to properly research events in the country.

The aim was not to come back with an answer, but to show just how difficult finding an answer can be, and present it in a way that is more accessible than the stern or esoteric language of NGO reports.

"I figured we should try to challenge people to do this themselves and fail," Florent Maurin, the journalist and game designer behind the project's concept, told Journalism.co.uk.

"To understand the reality is far more complex than they may believe.

"That's one philosophy of newsgames that can be summed up in a simple sentence: I lose, therefore I think."

Re-building Haiti is divided into five chapters of reportage covering housing, health, famine, the economy and migration, with detailed, longform journalism, video and large images to convey the personal stories of those directly affected.

Corrugatediron sheets sitting atop cinder block slums – some painted in pastel hues, others left bare – illustrate the Haiti's housing issues.

Illegally built shanty towns creeping over the mountains around Port-au-Prince are a growing problem, destroying the local environment and posing a greater risk of destruction in future earthquakes or landslides during the rainy season.

Screengrab from Rebuilding Haiti

But how can authorities house the homeless thousands safely and securely? Abbiateci and Maurin change the narrative in the latter half of each chapter to give the reader choices in shaping Haiti's fictional future, based on real-life dilemmas faced by those in the country.

In the final chapter, 'The New Haiti', readers see the results of their previous decisions, projected to the tenth anniversary of when the earthquake struck. The response, while mixed, has been largely positive, said Maurin.

"It's not a surprise for me to see that some people are not too positive about the interactive part," he said, "as some people continue to believe that some topics are too serious to make games about. But my view is that making a game is just one tool in the journalist's toolbox.

"Just like making a picture, or text, or video. It's just a different way to convey information so my point of view is that you can make games about any topic. And there's nothing too serious for a game to be made about it. Games don't have to be fun or trivial, they can be very serious."

Rebuilding Haiti is currently hosted by the French online magazine Rue89 on a non-exclusive basis, as part of the funding conditions from the European Journalism Centre (EJC), and Maurin said it is freely available for other news organisations to make use of should they wish.

"We tried to make something interactive but not complicated to use," he said, "as opposed to a data visualisation or interactive documentaries or stuff that could be very puzzling for people who are not used to interactive stuff. We really wanted to make something that was very easy to use and understand and enjoy."

The deadline for the next round of grant applications in the EJC's Development Reporting programme is Wednesday 23 July.

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