In a recent article in the TheAtlantic.com (14 September 2010), Niraj Chokshi presented an excerpt of the first chapter of Newsgames: Journalism at Play. Written by Ian Bogost, Simon Ferrari and Bobby Schweizer, the book considers the synthesis of news and games as an integrated format for information delivery.
Newsgames is launched from the premise (and often cited proclamation) that “most online journalism just translates existing practices to the Web: stories are written and edited as they are for print; video and audio features are produced as they would be for television and radio”. In short, it is argued that online journalism merely seeks to extrapolate a Gutenberg style of publication and transpose it to the web, without adapting (or perhaps assimilating) to the myriad of possibilities web technologies offer for the presentation of content on the web.
The authors of Newsgames suggest that, if fused with games, news journalism has the best chance to “persuade, inform and titillate; make information interactive; recreate a historical event; put news content into a puzzle; teach journalism and build a community”. As a primary example, Newsgames cites Wired magazine’s Cutthroat Capitalism. Ever wanted to be a pirate commander on the open seas, conducting raids around the Gulf of Aden and attacking ships for ransom? If your answer to any of this questions is “yes”, then Cutthroat Capitalism is a game that you may enjoy.
Designed for the purpose of providing an economic analysis of the Somali “pirate business model”, Cutthroat Capitalism synthesises news with intricate information which gives readers (game-players) unique knowledge of something which sounds more like a swash-buckling fantasy than a real-world event. The game takes you through the whole business of being a pirate in the modern age. You must pick your target (fishing boat, cruise ship, tugboat, etc), intercept it and then successfully demand a ransom. For those of you who prefer Captain James Hook to Jack Sparrow, the game gives you options; you can choose to feed, threaten, beat or kill your hostages.
While the fusion of the news with a game does create a product which delivers an intricate insight into events taking place in the world, it is doubtful the extent to which all news could be funnelled through such a model of dissemination. News games could operate quite effectively to provide accessible information about certain issues, but there is a reason why news tickers (news crawlers), RSS feeds and other alerts are becoming ever more popular modes of news dissemination. We are becoming an ever more time-poor society, and sometimes, a news crawler read while munching on a bowl of cereal is all one has time for. To the extent that journalism seeks to operate to probe issues that face society today, news games are definitely worth being considered as a way to add interactivity, a deeper engagement and educational validity to important news items. Despite the limitations of news games as a format for news, it undoubtedly has a lot to offer the kind of journalism that seeks to engage and interrogate the state of affairs in the world today.
(Source: The Atlantic; The MIT Press; Wired)