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#Podcast: Games, journalism and the digital future

September 20th, 2013 | 1 Comment | Posted by in Podcast

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Grand Theft Auto V hit the shelves this week as one of the most widely anticipated video games in the history of the medium. Already described as “eye-poppingly violent“, the GTA franchise has often been the lightning rod for criticism of the games industry, and modern culture with it.

Yet games are being used increasingly for education and training purposes. Game mechanics represent a different context in which people can understand and engage with a subject, but the idea of applying them to serious topics like the news is treated with uncertainty.

This week’s podcast explores how games can be a medium in the same way as text or video, what benefits that may bring with regards to news, some controversial examples of newsgames, and how games may integrate with news organisations.

We speak to:

  • Professor Janet Jones, head of media, Middlesex University
  • Tom Rawlings, design and production director, Auroch Digital, and project head, Game The News
  • Mary Hamilton, audience development editor, the Guardian Australia
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Wired.com gets playful with cow clicking interactive

January 4th, 2012 | No Comments | Posted by in Funny, Magazines, Multimedia

Wired.com has published a feature about tongue-in-cheek gaming, adding a playful twist by turning the article into a game.

In a feature called the curse of Cow Clicker: How a cheeky satire became a videogame hit, Wired.com reports on how a “cow-clicking game” (FarmVille), inspired another cow clicking game (Cow Clicker), by adding a cow clicking element to the feature – perhaps a first in digital storytelling.

Every time a reader clicks on the word “cow” – repeated 97 times within the feature – a graphic of a cow appears, with the “cownter” keeping track of how many cows have been clicked on. The cows in fact obscure the text therefore making it more difficult to read the article.

Readers can also click on the graphical cows to send them to their Facebook friends.

The feature is intended to “echo the theme” of the Cow Clicker Facebook game discussed in the feature, Shannon Perkins editor of interactive technologies at Wired.com told Journalism.co.uk. “It’s an intentionally trivial experience obscuring a more content rich experience,” he said.

Cow Clicker was created by Ian Bogost, a game developer, academic and co-author of Newsgames: Journalism at play. The game, which peaked at 56,000 players, was inspired by popular Facebook game FarmVille.

The Wired.com featured includes an interview with Bogost.

… This thought popped into my head,” Bogost says: “Games like FarmVille are cow clickers. You click on a cow, and that’s all you do. I remember thinking at the time that it felt like a one-liner, the kind of thing you would tweet. I just put it in the back of my mind.”

He developed Cow Clicker with “transparently stupid prizes—bronze, silver, and golden udders and cowbells—that people could win only by amassing an outlandish number of points. (A golden cowbell, for instance, requires 100,000 clicks.)”

On one level, this was all part of the act. Bogost was inhabiting the persona of a manipulative game designer, and therefore it made sense to pull every dirty trick he could to make the game as sticky and addictive as possible. But as he grew into the role, he got a genuine thrill from his creation’s popularity. Instead of addressing a few hundred participants at a conference, he was sharing his perspective with tens of thousands of players, many of whom checked in several times a day.

  • Shannon Perkins, editor of interactives at Wired.com, who is behind this interactive will be speaking on newsgames at news:rewired. Also presenting in the session is Bobby Schweizer, Ian Bogost’s co-author of Newsgames: Journalism at play.
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Ten examples of games used to tell news stories

December 16th, 2011 | No Comments | Posted by in Multimedia, Online Journalism

One of the sessions at news:rewired – media in motion will look at how newsgames and gaming mechanics are being used in journalism.

Shannon Perkins, editor of interactive technologies at Wired.com and who created Cutthroat Capitalism, a game where the player puts themselves in the position of a Somali pirate, will be coming over from the US to speak at news:rewired. In a Journalism.co.uk podcast he said a reader should “develop a deeper sense of the underlying themes of a story” by playing a game.

Another speaker presenting in the newsgames session at news:rewired is Bobby Schweizer, a doctoral student at the Georgia Institute of Technology and co-author of Newsgames: Journalism at Play. He will also be joining us from the US.

Here is a list of 10 newsgames to give an idea of how games can be used in storytelling.

1. The world at seven billion (BBC)

This BBC interactive, which uses gaming mechanics, is proof that newsgames go viral. The world at seven billion was the most shared and “liked” news story on Facebook of 2011 with 339,149 shares, comments and likes. It was also the most clicked story on Facebook this year and was the fourth most popular news story on Twitter in 2011 with 73,783 tweets.

2. Charlie Sheen v Muammar Gaddafi: whose line is it anyway? (Guardian)

A newsgame was also the second most popular news story on Facebook in 2011, with 219,023 shares, likes and comments. It is the Guardian quotes quiz where readers are asked to guess whether a line is a quote from former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi or actor Charlie Sheen.

This one was “produced very quickly”, according to the Guardian, and is an idea that could inspire small news organisations without a budget for big game development.

3. Cutthroat Capitalism (Wired.com)

This newsgame was created by news:rewired speaker Shannon Perkins after reading an article in Wired Magazine. The player becomes a Somali pirate. The game states:

You are a pirate commander staked with $50,000 from local tribal leaders and other investors. Your job is to guide your pirate crew through raids in and around the Gulf of Aden, attack and capture a ship, and successfully negotiate a ransom.

4. Los 33 (Chilean miners) (Chilean design firm Root33)

This newsgame is based on the rescue of the Chilean miners trapped underground in 2010. According to Bobby Schweizer, who will be speaking at news:rewired, the game, which asks the player to rescue the miner, provides an insight into the slow process involved in rescuing each miner.

You perform the rescue 33 times if you want to finish the game – which is impossible really to complete. It’s trying to get across that concept that maybe you can’t explain in a written article.

When you see video clips edited together of each of the miners returning to the surface you have three to five seconds of each of their faces, you don’t get that real sense of how long it actually took. The game was able to express that in the way that other stories couldn’t.

5. How should I vote in the General Election? (Telegraph)

This is a game produced by the Telegraph. It asks users to answer a series of questions to find their values and concerns. The game then cross-checks responses with party pledges and the player is then told how they should be voting. This game received much attention as voters were often surprised by the results the game returned.

6. The budget calculator (most major news sites)

Perhaps the most widely used form of gaming mechanics used in news is the budget calculator. The viewer enters a salary, the fuel-type of their car, amount of alcohol units consumed per week and other details and then gets told how much better or worse off they will be based on the new budget.

This budget calculator from the BBC shows gaming mechanics in online news is nothing new – going back at least 10 years. Here are BBC examples from 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011.

7. Christmas on the high street: retail winners and losers (Guardian)

At the beginning of this year the Guardian produced an interactive based on the Monopoly board. By clicking on each retailer the player finds out how business faired last Christmas.

8. Obameter (PolitiFact)

PolitiFact also uses gaming mechanics, such as with its Obameter, which tracks the US President’s campaign promises, the Truth-O-Meter (which also comes in app form) to test politicians’ and the GOP Pledge-O-Meter to rank political promises.

Speaking at the World Editors Forum in October founder and editor of the site Bill Adair said he felt there was “a tremendous lack of imagination” in the news industry in how to take advantage of new publishing platforms.

It’s like we’ve been given a brand new canvas with this whole palette of colours and we’re only painting in grey. We need to bring all the other colours to this new canvas.

9. Dollars for Docs (ProPublica)

US investigative news site ProPublica regularly uses gaming mechanics in news stories, such as with Dollars for Docs which enables people to find out whether their health professional has received money from drugs companies. Speaking at the World Editors Forum Scott Klein, editor of news applications, told the conference that as well as adding context, a news app has the ability to personalise and place the user at the centre of the story and offer them the ability to see the impact on them. “It doesn’t just tell a story, it tells your story,” he said.

10.  Fix the deficit (New York Times)

Here’s a budget puzzle from the New York Times. The reader is asked to work out where to make spending cuts to balance the books and hopefully get a sense of the financial challenges, tough decisions and the size of the shortfall.

Want to find out more about newsgames? Book a ticket for news:rewired here.

Recommended reading, viewing and listening:

This is a cross-post from news:rewired.

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#jpod: How video games can tell news stories

October 21st, 2011 | 1 Comment | Posted by in Multimedia, Online Journalism, Podcast

Creating a video game to tell a news story can enhance a reader’s understanding of the complexity of the issues involved. When 33 Chilean miners were trapped underground just over a year ago the world’s media told the story and in this Los 33 game, created by Root 33, the online viewer has the task of rescuing each miner and gets to understand the lengthy rescue process.

In this week’s #jpod, technology correspondent Sarah Marshall speaks to Bobby Schweizer, a doctoral student at the Georgia Institute of Technology and co-author of Newsgames: Journalism at Play; Shannon Perkins, editor of interactive technologies at Wired.com, who created Cutthroat Capitalism, a game where the player becomes a Somali pirate; and Scott Klein, editor of news applications at ProPublica.

The podcast hears about notable newsgames, discusses when a story warrants a game, and how much money is needed to create one.

Schweizer talks about his latest project, the Cartoonist, which aims to enable journalists to create their own online newsgames.

You can hear future podcasts by signing up to the Journalism.co.uk iTunes podcast feed.

 

 

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