The Peabody Awards announce winners for Digital and Interactive Storytelling

The Peabody Awards announce winners for Digital and Interactive Storytelling

March 24, 2022
Christine Drayer

The Peabody Awards Interactive Board of Jurors unveiled 12 winning digital and interactive projects alongside four special awardees that have achieved outstanding feats in storytelling across interactive, immersive and new media categories. The distinguished “Legacy class” of winners whose mediums altogether span virtual and augmented reality, gaming, interactive journalism, social video, interactive documentary, transmedia storytelling, and more, demonstrate the depth of these digital formats and emphasize the foundational standards for future award recipients.

“To recognize the present and future of storytelling in digital spaces, Peabody has taken the unusual step of looking backwards, recognizing landmark pioneering projects that have shaped and defined powerful stories in interactive and immersive media forms,” said Dr. Jeffrey Jones, executive director of Peabody. “We are honored to highlight these legacy projects and their creators, all of which signal the type of meaningful stories we will be recognizing each year going forward.”

The Peabody Awards were founded at the University of Georgia Grady College of Journalism 1940. This is the inaugural year for the Digital and Interactive Storytelling award category.

View more details about these honorees on the Peabody Interactive and Digital Storytelling website

Unanimously selected by the novel board of jurors, the legacy winners celebrate innovators who have long paved the way in diversifying storytelling experiences and communities, including four special awards. Phil Yu was named winner of the Trailblazer Award for his “Angry Asian Man” blog, a groundbreaking work at the forefront of amplifying Asian American voices in media and combating cultural stereotypes. Known as the “Godmother of Virtual Reality,” Nonny de la Peña received the Field Builder Award for her contributions to advancements in VR and immersive journalism, inspiring new modes of interactive storytelling that are now widely adopted. Peña and Yu’s awards were presented by Alejandro González Iñárritu and Daniel Dae Kim respectively.

The computer program ELIZA, developed in 1964-66, was honored with the Foundational Award for elevating software as a tool not just for business or science, but also for emotional interactions, empathy, and connection. Forensic Architecture received an Institutional Award for its evidentiary techniques known as “counter-forensics” to advance justice and to expose state, military, police, and corporate crimes of magnitude.

“By honoring these legacy projects and creative innovators, we celebrate dynamic stories that push the limit of what we know storytelling to be across all mediums,” said Diana Williams, chairwoman of the new Peabody Interactive Board. “And we also continue to uphold the Peabody’s mission of supporting visionaries who tell stories that illuminate the world around us and can perhaps evoke societal change.”

All winning projects are now featured on the Peabody Awards’ interactive website, for audiences to explore firsthand and to learn about their historical impact. Designed to honor and respect Peabody recipients within their medium, and created with accessibility in mind, audiences can view, share and engage with these legacy projects and the site’s exclusive content.

The formalization of the new awards category follows a tradition of past Peabody honorees recognized for their digital innovation and storytelling, including “Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek (2012), “A Short History of the Highrise” (2013), and “That Dragon Cancer” (2016). Legacy winners were identified and handpicked by the Board as projects released prior to 2019. Any projects headed or led by jurors were removed from consideration. The bodies of work and profiles of the Peabody Interactive Board of Jurors is available on the Peabody website.

The first entry submission window for recent projects is slated to open late June 2022. Entry guidelines and eligibility rules will be available on the Peabody website beginning in May.

The full list of legacy winners is below (listed by the four special awards, followed by 12 projects in alphabetical order):

Peabody Award Legacy Winners for Digital & Interactive:
Phil Yu — Trailblazer Award

Like many people of color coming up in the 1980s and ‘90s, Phil Yu had grown accustomed to not seeing himself in mass media. But unlike many, Yu also got angry, and then he found a way to channel it. Angry Asian Man is a blog whose name is an ironic play on the model minority trope and asks: Why aren’t Asians allowed or expected to be angry? With the message as important as the delivery and consumption medium, Phil continues to shine a light on Asian American issues beyond his blog and into podcasts and publishing. Mainstream media is listening now.

View more details about these honorees on the Peabody Interactive and Digital Storytelling website

Nonny de la Peña — Field Builder Award

Nonny de la Peña has been at the forefront of emerging media throughout her career, earning the title of “Godmother of VR.” She was an important contributor during a historic period of discovery in beyond-broadcast digital media. Her example catalyzed a generation of storytellers and innovators to invest their genius towards meaning-making in emerging media forms. Significant areas of her innovation include room-scale 5DoF immersion; data visualization; flat game-engine storytelling; techniques to bring flat media documentation into immersive space, stimulating technologists to make VR headsets mobile, higher quality, and less expensive; and a platform that democratizes the immersive power of volumetric VR.

ELIZA (1964) — Foundational Award

Primary Credits: Joseph Weizenbaum, MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory

In 1966, Joseph Weizenbaum saw the potential in the computers of his day to create a program for the purpose not of processing information or doing scientific calculations, but for the sole intention of making a relationship. This program was ELIZA. ELIZA took the form of what we now call a chatbot. She opened the door to software as a tool not just for business or science, but also for emotional interactions, empathy, and connection.

Forensic Architecture (2010) — Institutional Award

Primary Credits: Eyal Weizman

In the 21st century, states’ and corporations’ arsenals include drones, chemical gasses, computational surveillance, sensors, and disinformation, which are launched at targets remotely through complex computer interfaces and dizzying transnational networks. In these next-level true crimes, there is no obvious smoking gun. For the last decade, Forensic Architecture has directed a spectacular coordinated response, led by architect Eyal Weizman. The group has written a new language of evidentiary techniques called “counter-forensics” to advance justice and expose state, military, police, and corporate crimes of magnitude on behalf of advocates and affected communities. Forensic Architecture has co-created an entire new academic field and emergent media practice, using digital 3D modeling for human rights investigation and documentary, to speak truth to computational power on a planetary scale.

Always in Season Island (2010)

Fields & Forms: Interactive Documentary, Game+Play, XR
Primary Credits: Jacqueline Olive
Additional Production Credits & Partners: Tell It Media, Bay Area Video Coalition

The creators of the virtual project Always in Season Island sought to confront the ongoing legacy of American racial terror following their 2019 documentary film (Always in Season) on the history of the lynching of African Americans. They recreated, in virtual life, the setting of the 1930 lynching in Marion, Indiana, when 10,000 white men, women, and children came to watch the torture and murder of two African American men. Avoiding gratuitous violence, “Always in Season Island” offered visitors tasks to complete and prompts to consider that either encouraged or stopped the lynching from occurring, ultimately pushing the conventions of the documentary form and challenging audiences to intimately examine their own capacities for both dehumanization and change.

The Beast, A.I. Transmedia Experience (2001)

Fields & Forms: Transmedia Storytelling
Primary Credits: Jordan Weisman, Sean Stewart, Pete Fenlon, and Elan Lee

Originally developed by a small team at Microsoft Games as a marketing campaign to support the 2001 film A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, “The Beast” played out over a massive network of fictional websites and other forms of media that combined to tell a sprawling tale set in the world of A.I.: Artificial Intelligence. Following clues hidden in the movie’s trailer and poster, those who found their way into the network were immersed in the storyworld and challenged with puzzles to unlock the next pieces of narrative. This mass-distributed form of storytelling, later dubbed an “Alternate Reality Game,” provided a template for a new way to tell stories over the internet and connected media.

Fatal Force: The Washington Post Police Shootings Database (2015)

Fields & Forms: Interactive Journalism
Primary Credits: Steven Rich, Julie Tate, David Fallis
Additional Production Credits & Partners: The Washington Post

Amid outrage over the 2014 police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, reporter Wesley Lowery suggested that The Post count every fatal police shooting in America. We now know that American police officers shoot and kill about 1,000 people a year, and The Post has consistently made the data accessible through graphics that show with stunning clarity how victims are disproportionately Black—more than a third of unarmed people—and overwhelmingly young and male. The most salient and impactful works of data journalism fill a void and answer crucial questions that the government or private sector choose not to. With the Fatal Force database, The Post’s work over seven years is an unwavering public service in the fight for criminal justice.

Feminist Frequency (2013)

Fields & Forms: Social Video
Primary Credits:  Anita Sarkeesian

Following the 2009 launch of her feminist media criticism website by the same name, Anita Sarkeesian advanced our conservations about popular culture, and specifically the representation of gender in media and “geek” and gamer culture, through her Feminist Frequency YouTube channel. Her lightning rod series “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games,” exposed the persistent denigration of women in one of the most popular media forms in the world and angered parts of the largely male gamer demographic, prompting the #GamerGate scandal when she endured vicious online harassment and death threats. Through it all, she continued to tell stories in service of manifesting a better world for women, queers, and other marginalized people.

How Y’all, Youse, and You Guys Talk: NY Times Dialect Quiz (2013)

Fields & Forms: Interactive Journalism
Primary Credits: Josh Katz, Wilson Andrews
Additional Production Credits & Partners: The New York Times

The New York Times’ work “How Y’all, Youse and You Guys Talk”—or, because of its sheer ubiquity, simply the “dialect quiz”—became a cultural touchstone immediately after its launch in 2013. After answering a series of questions about the words you use, the interactive graphic returns a map that, more often than not, pinpoints where you live or grew up. What started as a personal side project of graphics editor Josh Katz was used by tens of millions of visitors over the span of a few weeks and quickly became at the time the most-viewed piece of content in New York Times history for its ability to tell individuals a personal story about themselves while also drawing a limitless set of maps of cultural geography that still delights new readers today.

Journey (2012)

Fields & Forms: Interactive Narrative
Primary Credits: Jenova Chen
Additional Production Credits & Partners: SONY Computer Entertainment, Santa Monica Studio Developer: THATGAMECOMPANY INC

Journey is quiet, abstract, and spiritual, yet riveting. As a player you are a robed figure, seemingly lost, while meeting anonymous strangers, other players searching for what they do not know. Journey shook the gaming world when it was released a decade ago, crystallizing the spirit of a burgeoning generation of indie game developers, whose tender, artisanal works recalled the wonder of the earliest days of gaming. In Journey we are encouraged to collaborate with anonymous strangers as opposed to shouting at them for competition or clout. We are asked to slow down, stop talking, and pay attention to history and the ecosystem around us.

Never Alone (Kisima Inŋitchuŋa) (2014)

Fields & Forms: Interactive Narrative
Primary Credits: Sean Vesce, Alan Gershenfeld, Gloria O’Neill
Additional Production Credits & Partners: Cook Inlet Tribal Council, Inc. E-Line Media

“Kunuuksaayuka,” a traditional Alaskan Iñupiat tale, follows a young girl, Nuna, who fights against an eternal winter storm threatening her community’s survival. For the 2014 atmospheric puzzle-platformer Kisima Inŋitchuŋa, this epic journey has been adapted by writer, storyteller, and poet Ishmael Hope (Iñupiaq and Tlingit) into an artful and accessible educational game. Throughout the game, players encounter powerful video vignettes of interviews with 40 Iñupiat Elders who share legends, cultural practices, and traditional world-views. Importantly, the project originated with Upper One Games, a for-profit subsidiary of Cook Inlet Tribal Council established in 2012 as the first Indigenous-owned commercial game company in the United States.

Notes on Blindness: Into Darkness (2016)

Fields & Forms: XR
Primary Credits:  Arnaud Colinart, Amaury Laburth, Pete Middleton, James Spinney
Additional Production Credits & Partners: Archer’s Mark, Ex Nihiloin collaboration with Audiogaming, Novelab ARTE France With the Support of CNC

Notes on Blindness: Into Darkness is a beautifully crafted landmark 360 film project that premiered in 2016 in collaboration with an acclaimed flat feature film documentary. While the feature film (Notes on Blindness) told the story of an articulate professor documenting his transition from being a sighted to an unsighted person, the immersive piece gave audiences an experience of echolocation. In effect, the tables were turned, where sighted people shifted from sympathy for someone who “lost” a sense, to a realization that they have been so dominated by eye data inputs to their brain they have become “sound blind. The experience answered the “why immersion?” question with innovative design technique, a compelling experience, an emotional journey, and transcendent aesthetics—all elements of an excellent story.

Papers, Please (2013)

Fields & Forms: Game + Play
Primary Credits: Lucas Pope
Additional Production Credits & Partners: Developer and Publisher: 3909 LLC

First released in 2013, Papers, Please puts players in a position of authority in a dystopian police state. In this strategy simulation video game, the player is in the shoes of an immigration officer stationed in a country bordered by hostile neighbors. With little time to review and process documents, the player must make fast-paced decisions to determine who can cross the border. And with each wrong decision, the consequences can be dire, resulting in life or death stakes for your family who are dependent on your earnings. Papers, Please breaks away from the traditional tropes of kill or be killed but instead focuses on the ever-present complex, intricate, and personal choices resulting from geopolitical forces.

Quipu (2015)

Fields & Forms: Interactive Documentary, Audio
Primary Credits: Maria Ignacia Court, Rosemarie Lerner
Additional Production Credits & Partners: Chaka Studios

In the 2015 web-based online documentary Quipu Project audiences click on colored-dot icons, each representing testimonies of more than 100 women from remote mountainous locations across Peru, who share their anonymous stories in voice messages after dialing a free phone number. In recording after recording, they recount being among the nearly 300,000 women (and thousands of men) brutally subjected to sterilization under the government of former president Alberto Fujimori in the 1990s. Quipu Project elegantly fused low-tech phone technology for recording with a high-tech digital interface for the user experience, brilliantly weaving together ancient and new technologies to create a powerful and poetic online collection of co-created, participatory oral histories in a movement for justice and survivor support.

Star Wars Uncut (2010)

Fields & Forms: Co-Creation
Primary Credits: Casey Pugh
Additional Production Credits & Partners: Jamie Wilkinson, Chad Pugh, Annelise Pruitt, Bryan Pugh, Aaron Valdez, KK Apple, Todd Roman, Ivan Askwith

Star Wars Uncut—a 2010 online film produced, edited, and directed by Casey Pugh—is a crowdsourced shot-for-shot re-creation of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, consisting of 473 segments, 15 seconds each, created and submitted by fans from all over the globe. In 2009, Pugh created a website where fans could sign up to re-create scenes from the original Star Wars film. When there were multiple contenders, there was a vote to determine whose work made it into the final film, which would then be altered in real time. Star Wars Uncut is a great example of fanfiction involving a beloved IP, a best-in-class show of how crowdsourced content can not only entertain, but also make a familiar story delightful in a new way.

 World Without Oil (2007)

Fields & Forms: Co-Creation, Transmedia Storytelling
Primary Credits: Ken Eklund
Additional Production Credits & Partners: Electric Shadows, Independent Lens, ITVS Interactive, Writerguy official credits: 

Unfolding online in 2007, World Without Oil simulated a global oil shortage. Over the 32 days the game ran, each day played out one week of events, charting worldwide ramifications of a global oil shock. The game invited players from around the world to tell their own stories of how the oil shortage was affecting their lives, through blog posts, voice recordings, pictures, video, and other user-generated content. Collaborating on potential solutions to a global crisis, the players together helped create a fictional documentary, raising important questions of sustainability and resiliency.