How game design could be useful in journalism
Games bring play, engagement to complex stories (podcast)
Growing up with a younger brother who is seemingly the polar opposite of me, I have a bit of a negative connotation towards video games. As a kid, I was an avid reader and had little-to-no interest in television, movies, or video games. My brother on the other hand, a video-gaming addict, had a hard time growing up and trying to explain to my parents the positives of video games.
It wasn't until college that I started questioning the validity of his argument. Sure, the argument of increased violence via video games is also valid but for the sake of this analysis I will remove that from the picture.
First and foremost, not all games need to be violent nor on traditional, generally expensive consoles. In fact, as Sisi Wei notes, "they can be powered up on our smartphones and on Facebook, and many people who would never call themselves gamers are playing games and getting familiar with how the medium works. And it's not all just escapist fun — there's a community dedicated to exploring how games can be used in education." Wei describes the components of game design as a means for application in journalism as two parts: storyline and mechanics. The storyline aspect follows the run-of-the-mill journalistic approach of how to present a story in a way that the reader/viewer will have an emotional response. Wei argues that "well-designed game mechanics can elicit the same emotions evoked by a well-crafted narrative news story — for the right player, the emotional impact of a game can be even stronger".
This innovation of including game design into the realm of journalism originally came off as a bit overwhelming to me. However, once I read more into Wei's article, she points out that "making a newsgame isn't that much different than making an interactive graphic, and the technology doesn't have to be very different from what we already use." In fact, she breaks down the four basics of making a newsgame: make your game fun, your game must have an objective, the result of the game should not be predetermined, and give people a reason to play.
However, with very little literature and research on whether or not game design could have a positive impact on the journalistic process, NiemanReports investigated the possibility of news-focused game playing. The conclusion ended up being that "right now the opportunities news organizations have to tell digital stories far exceed the knowledge about how these choices affect the audience’s experience". But what is certain is that in the end games shouldn't be revolving around money or graphics (although of course it helps). Games, according to Robin Hunicke, should be elegant, emotional and expressive.
In fact Lindsay Grace, Director of the American University Game Lab, says that “Game designers are experience designers. While readers read, and viewers watch, game players engage. Sometimes, experiencing the story is more persuasive and impactful". This comment falls in line with my concerns with my younger brothers because of this very idea that players engage. Professor Margot Susca, explores this idea of the effects on video games particularly on kids, young adults, adults, and what have you. But just as video games (particularly violent ones) can have negative effects on individuals, they can also be used positively to have an individual engage with a story.
The biggest issue of course will be breaking down a journalist's mind of what telling a story means. But in this technological age where advancements move faster than our fingers type, nothing is out of reach. Even telling news-worthy stories via game design.