Ebola Story is an interactive storytelling game about the challenges of Ebola response in East Africa. The goal was to create an entry point to a story so often told in pieces and easily dismissed by audiences. We often hear that people in DRC and East Africa feel the response is ineffective, while those internationally don’t understand the layers of complexity of the response efforts. The goal was to show readers the challenges – poor infrastructure and access, security risks, mistrust of the population, challenges diagnosing cases and with contact tracing – through their own choice of narrative and a
This project garnered a large audience for the Elephant and was successful at driving conversation about the response efforts. In particular, readers highlighted how they were unaware of certain issues, such as burial approaches or the frequency of attacks against responders. It also drove a different audience to the Elephant’s site, allowing them to grow their audience base regionally and internationally. It also fostered connections between the journalists across borders, and the animator, with whom they hope to collaborate again.
We worked very hard to design a storytelling method that would address the key issues of Ebola response, while still engaging the readers, and work well on many mobile formats. Our story was in part inspired by the Financial Times uber game, but we applied lessons learned and our regional context to that idea to develop this one.
We had initially planned to have a developer manually create the site, but he was unable to meet our deadlines. Instead, journalist Carolyn Thompson used an online template and tool to create the pathways that allowed the export of an html file. We then hired a different developer, Gabriel Soare, to add custom code to the basic structure to make the site more attractive and responsive.
We also had an illustrator design images to go with the story narrative, and used Photoshop to create graphics for the data. This was in part to simplify the process and meet our deadline, and also to create a consistent and responsive approach for all the data.
For the data processing, Thompson used Excel and Google sheets.
What was the hardest part of this project?
We encountered several challenges throughout the development of the site. In particular, the original planned developer was unable to deliver within our deadline, and disappeared without having done any work. We were able to find an open source online template that journalist Carolyn Thompson used, adding custom code where needed.
It took much longer than expected to develop the story routes, due to the desire to make the story clear, readable, and yet comprehensive. In the end, the project has 138 passages (pages of information) and 187 links between them.
We also connected with an animator who created illustrations to help tell the story. She initially didn’t think she could meet the deadline, but we decided to reduce the complexity of the graphics in favour of publishing with strong visuals.
Due to the high level of time involved in laying out those pathways and links, we decided not to translate the project on our first publication. However, we still plan to release French and Swahili versions to ensure we can target readers in the Democratic Republic of Congo and other affected areas.
What can others learn from this project?
We worked very hard to design a storytelling method that would address the key issues of Ebola response, while still engaging the readers, and work well on many mobile formats. Our story was in part inspired by the Financial Times uber game, but we applied lessons learned and our regional context to that idea to develop this one. Initially we had envisioned the story with many more charts and maps and data points, but as we designed the project we realized that it was more important to focus on audience and engagement to ensure people made it through the experience. We erred away from using too much data, as we decided the narrative was the more important focus. We still included some data updates as section breaks and to help situate the story in time. We decided to provide two streams of storylines: one that travels through time from the perspective of an international responder, and another that experiences the response through the perspective of a citizen who risks becoming infected. This allows the reader to follow their area of interest, or to experience different versions of the story by trying multiple routes. We were also able to enlist an animator who created illustrations to go with the story. We thought a lot about how those illustrations should represent the story . especially in choosing to use bright colours and beautiful imagery to resemble a game and ensure we highlighted that daily life continues even amid a complex spread of disease, hoping to counter stereotypes of . We also had reporting gathered on the ground by a Congolese journalist to add to the story, but later decided to reserve the videos until the last section, to avoid interrupting the story flow and bring readers back to reality after the game