When journalist Mitch Swenson ventured into the north of Syria in September 2013, he witnessed the tragic depths of the war first-hand. Most of the conflict coverage centered around the cities, but Swenson soon found that no person was left untouched by violence, regardless of where they existed within the nation's borders. With the objective to inform the world of what was going on, Swenson gamified his personal experiences and other open-sourced intelligence, ultimately creating 1000 Days of Syria. While this in some ways is a text-based web game, Swenson prefers the term "interactive education." Spanning the first 1000 days of the Syrian conflict, Swenson's choose-your-own-ending quest asks readers to select a character, read along and make decisions at critical junctures. With that point of view shift, truth meets resonance and actual insight is conveyed. All the while, a "ways to help" tab is sat below it all, offering guidance back in real time.
During the interactive experience, readers are required to make a decision in order to progress. Death is a potential result. "The decision points were taken mostly from historical backgrounds, people that I talked to or that I had read about. I tried to make it as accurate as possible," Swenson continues. "There's a point when you can interact with someone on the Turkish border that's smuggling diesel out of Syria. There's another point where you can help make DIY weapons. These are things going on in Syria at this moment." The story is engaging—and honest.
"I had been planning a trip with two other journalists to Syria since April 2013 and that was sort of when the conflict was really ramping up," Swenson tells CH. Well into their planning, when the trip was already locked down, the chemical weapons attack occurred. "That happened on 21 August 2013. After that, we were contemplating bailing but we already had all the arrangements so we figured we had to do it. We were the journalists that could be there."
Swenson found the experience so moving that he sought to find a new method of sharing all the information he gathered. "I think with the advent of interactive news, infographics and quizzes, all different types of readership interactivity has developed. I wanted to incorporate those elements, where the reader is involved, while bringing attention to Syria." With Western society's cumulative short attention span, noted by our shift in attention to Ukraine already dissipating elsewhere, Swenson aimed to develop a new experience that would continue to "shed light on quite a travesty—a failure in humanity."
Experience 1000 Days of Syria online.
Images courtesy of Mitch Swenson