This post is by Aleszu Bajak
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We’re always playing games. As kids it was kick the can, hide and seek, tag. As grownups, it’s more often Candy Crush and crosswords. But what if games could help tell news stories? What if a game like Candy Crush taught us how to balance the nation’s budget?
News outlets, including BuzzFeed, the New York Times, ProPublica, and the Washington Post, have been incorporating games to engage and inform readers and drive new audiences to their sites. Games are emerging as a new tool for journalism, offering at times a playful approach to consuming news. From popular quizzes to games that inspire empathy, this playful format is potentially rich new terrain for journalists working hard to engage readers and have them relate to the stories they are trying to tell.
But not every outlet has the budget or staff to build “Spot the Ball
,” for example, a game the New York Times created which removes the soccer ball from a series of Brazil World Cup photos and asks readers to guess its whereabouts. And not all editors are convinced, or even aware, of them as a new way to tell stories.
The New York Times’ Spot the Ball, screenshot.
From ‘gamification’ to journalism
Integrating “gamification” into the news has its hurdles, said Max Foxman, a PhD student at Columbia University’s Department of Communication who studies how games are being used journalistically. Tight deadlines and not enough design and programming staff are two hurdles to deploying games in the newsroom. But beginning to integrate and create games is becoming easier, especially when game platforms can be repurposed for specific stories.
Foxman recently published a research paper, “Play the News: Fun and Games in Digital Journalism.” He examined whether and how journalists were applying games, play, and fun to the creation of news. He interviewed journalists at dozens of newsrooms currently experimenting with games, including Mother Jones, known for its political quizzes
, and the New York Times, which featured the popular “Dialect Quiz
.” Foxman found that the most pioneering journalists creating games were able to think
like game designers when building news products that had an element of gamification. Gamification is the practice of applying game theories and game mechanics like X AND Y into non-gaming applications like journalism. These kind of “gamified” news products could be anything from a budget-balancing game to a pop culture quiz.
But convincing editors in newsrooms to gamify news is in many ways an uphill battle. “Part of the problem is that they don’t know enough and they don’t have the infrastructure to turn around games quickly,” said Retha Hill, director of the New Media Innovation Lab
at Arizona State University’s Cronkite School of Journalism. “Even if you’re a progressive editor that’s interested in games one of the first things you have to do is make a game engaging so people come back and play it again. That’s hard.”
After running a few news games workshops with ASU students, Hill started a news game course to introduce students to the idea of marrying journalism and games. Working with ASU’s Center for
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