Journalism & Games: News Literacy Edition
ProPublica’s Sisi Wei just wrote a piece for PBS MediaShift on how to create compelling newsgames, that is, games that seek to reach, inform and engage news readers by involving them in the issues at hand. For example, you can play a game to experience being part of the sweatshop system and thereby potentially experience owning the consequences of the system:
This feeling of owning consequences is what’s at play in a game called Sweatshop. It simulates the life of a sweatshop manager, and in the face of the daily pressures, the player’s moral compass begins to lose its bearing. Betsy Morais wrote, in her New Yorker piece about playing Sweatshop, that “as I continued to play, I began to skip past … the interjections of a child worker who popped up at the bottom of the screen to plead for decent treatment. …The longer I played, the more each moving part — workers, children, hats — became abstracted into the image of one big machine.”
Or, you can involve yourself in the complexities of making budget decisions:
In 2008, American Public Media published a popular simulation newsgame called “Budget Hero,” which asks players to build a federal budget that can stay balanced over the next 30 years. The game is kept up-to-date regularly — for example, it takes into account the January 2013 fiscal cliff — and if you play the game without making any budget changes, the game displays a real projection of how current federal spending affects the budget over the coming years.
Read on for some best practices and tools to create newsgames of your own, which, apparently, aren’t technically much harder than creating interactive graphics.
FJP: While these games deal mainly with news readers viscerally experiencing the issues reporting in the news, another sort of newsgame that’s been on my radar for a while is what the folks on the Committee of Concerned Journalists and the Reynolds Journalism Institute partnered up to create in the 2011 series Elements of Verification. It’s the same concept as most newsgames, except it puts you in the shoes of the journalist or news consumer to weigh creation and consumption decisions for yourself.
Granted, the news lit games are really simple and they’re not visually fantastic. But, they’re incredibly important to democratic education. They put the average citizen in j-school for a couple of minutes. Coupled with Sisi’s recommendations and the visual and storytelling perspective of interactive news designers it would be fantastic to build more such series. —Jihii
Background/Bonus Reading: Sisi Wei reminds us that there’s a difference between gamification and games (gamification being the practice of adding game-like elements to activities that aren’t truly games, i.e.: Foursquare) (but the words tend to be used interchangeably anyway). Here is a paper that explains the how’s, what’s and why’s of gamification in education, which is a pretty good primer on the potential and debates around using games in education. It was co-authored by Joey Lee, a professor at Teachers College who is doing some pretty interesting work around real-world impact games. There’s also an annual conference around social impact games which features some pretty incredible work. In my non-FJP life, I worked on a video about it which you can see here.
Image: Screenshot from the School Tragedy portion of the Elements of Verification game series.