From the stage of PromaxGAMES: The Summit 2018 husband and wife Yusuf and Sumaiya Omar created a video featuring themselves, the audience and a pair of Snapchat spectacles in 30 seconds flat.
“Has the way we market caught up with technology?” Yusuf asked attendees gathered April 26 at The Midway in San Francisco.
Less than two decades ago, gamers were blowing into console cartridges. Yusuf jokingly claimed the first time he had sex was on Sims.
Today, there’s a growing intersection of gaming, social media, video, interactive experiences and immersive storytelling that is changing the way society communicates.
“We’re not there yet,” Yusuf said. “Not everyone is walking around with camera glasses on their faces; not everyone has an Oculus Rift headset. But as all this comes together, the space is going to move really fast, and it’s going to be up to the ones that are ready.”
The Omars are leading that charge. Together they founded the company Hashtag Our Stories, where they go into underserved communities around the world, and teach citizens and journalists alike how to use their smartphones to create content on social media platforms, giving them the skills and knowledge to tell their stories with their own voices and perspectives, and hoping they will speak out when they have something to say.
They have been to 27 countries in the past four months.
“Our audiences are effectively becoming our greatest content creators,” Yusuf said.
And the gaming industry is full of potential to tell such solution-based storytelling.
For instance, the mobile game Liyla and The Shadows of War was developed by a young coder in Palestine that focuses on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in the Gaza Strip. Apple barred it from the App Store, saying its political themes meant it was not a game—a move that generated tons of word-of-mouth social media buzz that drove its popularity.
“There was no ad spend … just the momentum of a community around a story,” Yusuf said.
The Omars use one tool: a mobile phone, to do everything from shoot, edit and publish video content. This is what they teach others, and this is where they see the future heading.
“Everything I need to tell a story fits in my pocket,” Yusuf said. The process creates a decentralization of storytelling in the marketing industry by putting the public, rather than networks and agencies, as the first point of contact.
With that in mind, the Omars are acutely aware of the need to customize content for different social media platforms by staying on top of algorithms such as Facebook’s prioritization of friends over brands, and its focus on the types of posts people in the same communities are sharing.
“We fundamentally believe the internet is getting a lot smaller,” Yusuf said. “We believe it’s of more value to create hyper-local accounts around specific interest groups, games and regions so we can have very, very focused campaigns.”
So, for a generation that wants to be influencers, and is constantly exploring new formats and technology, what does the content they share actually look like?
It looks like Snaps being gamified as essentially choose-your-own-adventure stories in which users can decide to swipe to see the next photo, or click to go to a company’s website.
It looks like sex slaves in India finding fun filters to disguise their faces, rather than using more traditional methods such as blurring, in order to anonymously talk about their experiences. This speaks to the larger concept of going behind the gimmicks of social media to find out how content can be created with more substance.
And it looks like Yusuf using augmented reality for a Facebook live video through which he interacted with the audience from the stage. It’s quick, dirty and fun, full of suspense and engagement, and aimed at a millennial demographic that’s incredibly forgiving when it comes to production quality. It showcases the shift from using a camera to capture the world, to using a camera as the main tool for interacting with the world.
“Reality,” he said, “is the new quality.”