We explored seven categories of newsgames in our book Newsgames: Journalism at Play. There are current events games commenting on issues of the day, infographic games that allow people to explore data, documentary games that portray events, puzzles that have long been integral to the business of news, games that teach what it means to be a journalist, games that engage communities, and the platforms that make these games possible.
Some of these newsgames resemble familiar forms, like this game about the New York City mayoral election that apes Donkey Kong. Many of the earliest newsgames are parodies of existing videogames: Pong, Space Invaders, and Pac-Man are among the most commonly copied games.
But one of the earliest examples, September 12 th , is very different. It is composed of an aiming reticule and tells players they are supposed to drop bombs on a Middle Eastern city. And in this game, by trying to root out the terrorists that walk the streets by targeting smart missiles, the player ends up killing innocent civilians which in turn produces more terrorists. It was a striking and succinct commentary on a flawed military policy.
So what do newsgames do?
The over-the-top illustrations of Bailout Wars are reminiscent of the aesthetic of editorial cartoons. They figure greedy bankers as attacking the White House and it’s up to the player to tap, flick, and swipe them out of existence.
While not the picture of factual accuracy, the handful of Hudson River landing games that appeared after flight 1549 made an emergency landing in the river outside New York City showed both what happened and how difficult such a landing would have been. It took me four tries to successfully land so that I could show this screenshot.
Budget Hero is about balancing the U.S. budget. But not just in the ideal way so many of this type of budget simulators do. But rather, while trying to live up to promises that a politician would have made when getting elected.
Newsgames can abstract and model issues. In the ReDistricting Game, players produce oddly shaped electoral districts to represent the bizarre process of gerrymandering that creates a geographic area that’s supposed to ensure a political party’s victory in an election.
John Kerry’s Silver Star interrogates the feasibility of the swift boat campaign in Vietnam that was at the center of the 2004 U.S. presidential election. By being in the shoes of Kerry undertaking that mission, the player gets the chance to see where any of the complications may have arisen. It’s imperfect, of course, but it at least presents an alternative way of analyzing the story.
In Inside Disaster, players learn what it was like to face the devastation of the earthquake in Haiti from either a survivor, an aid worker, or a journalist’s point of view. As the journalist, it teaches the player about the tough decisions the someone in that position faces: when confronted with tragedy, the instinct kicks in to rush in and try to help. But the game teaches about balancing observation and intervention. And helping out could get you fired.
Newspapers and television can tell the narrative of the Chilean miner’s sixty-nine days spend underground. But the newsgame is able to portray the rescue effort as a laborious slog. To play the game pictured here, the player clicks on the wheel up top and makes circular motions with the mouse. The elevator is lowered down the shaft, the player clicks a button to extract the miner, and then makes the same circular motion in the opposite direction to raise the capsule. This is repeated 33 times. By doing this work yourself, you begin to understand the difficulties of the rescue. Newsgames can get at nuance that other forms of journalism cannot.
Shannon will be able to tell you more, since this was his project, but rather than tell the story of the despicable Somali pirates, Wired’s Cutthroat Capitalism shows the economic system of piracy. Maximizing the score is not about achieving large ransoms for capturing big tankers, but rather by quickly accruing the less dangerous smaller purses. Piracy, the game says, is about balancing risks and rewards. By turning the story into a system, it demonstrates the complexities of the issue.
So as you’ve seen with our little game generation tool, newsgames can get into unfamiliar territory. But even though it’s a little weird, what’s most important to us is that we’re trying something new. Don’t be afraid of experimenting, going beyond your comfort zone, and even failing once in a while. The payoff may be good journalism .
Bobby Schweizer at news:rewired
WHAT DO NEWSGAMES DO? BOBBY SCHWEIZER @NEWSGAMESGT HTTP://NEWSGAMES.GATECH.EDU/ GEORGIA INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY ATLANTA, GA U.S.A. news:rewired – media in motion february 3rd 2012
<ul><li>Any application of journalism in videogame form. </li></ul>What is a newsgame?
Newsgames: Journalism at Play <ul><li>Current Events </li></ul><ul><li>Infographics </li></ul><ul><li>Documentary </li></ul><ul><li>Puzzles </li></ul><ul><li>Teaching Literacy </li></ul><ul><li>Community Engagement </li></ul><ul><li>Platforms for Games </li></ul>Based on research supported by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
Some look like games we know. <ul><li>“ Donkey Con (Elephant Evasion)” by the Gotham Gazette </li></ul><ul><li>http://www.gothamgazette.com/votegame/con.php </li></ul>
Others take a form of their own. <ul><li>“ September 12th” by Gonzalo Frasca </li></ul><ul><li>http://www.newsgaming.com/games/index12.htm </li></ul>