Is There a Place for Fun and Games in the Newsroom?

As of late there has been a lot of conversation around the use of “gamification” as a means of storytelling, however some may argue that having games in the newsroom is not a new thing.

Maxwell Foxman’s Tow Center report, entitled ‘Play the News,’ points to crossword puzzles as the first example of games in the news. In fact crossword puzzles increased sales and was thought of as part of the bundle. It engaged and maintained user, provided support and modernized traditional news formats.

Today newsrooms are attempting to go a step further with digital games. We will take a look at three example of games in the news: Darfur is Dying, Spot the Ball, and the Dialect Quiz.

Darfur is Dying is a game where users experience the life of a refugee camp, designed by MTV. After reviewing this game in my senior seminar, many felt that a subject such as a Darfur should not be simulated to the game because it makes light of the situation. We also found the game to be too complicated and futile.

Spot the Ball is a game designed by the New York Times. This games ask readers/players to guess where the ball was in the action shot of the Olympic soccer game. While we found this game to be entertaining, many felt that they did not learn anything from this exercise. However, we did agree that this was a better attempt at using games in the newsroom.

The object of the game is to guess where the ball was in the play. A description of the photo and stats of your results are provided to the right.

Jason Franson/Canadian Press, via Associated Press

Good guess!

You were more accurate than 73.93% of readers.

Japan 1, Australia 0

Azusa Iwashimizu (3) of Japan and Elise Kellond-Knight of Australia chased the ball on a shot on goalkeeper Lydia Williams during the second half Saturday in Edmonton.

Lastly we looked at the Dialect Quiz, a popular game by the New York Times where readers/players were asked to answer a series of questions about the way they pronounced words, and common phrases they use in their conversations. The class as a whole felt that this game was both entertaining and informative. It was fun activity and it taught us colloquial terms used in other parts of the United States. Many enjoyed comparing their responses and maps well.


So why are some games successful and others not so much?

Jeremy Gilbert, director of strategic initiatives at the Washington Post put it this way: gaming companies have few storytellers but many developers and people who can render things. In the newsroom it’s the opposite. There are a ton of storytellers but very few developers. Journalist need to start thinking like gamers and remember that they are storytellers first.

According to this study journalist can implement the following four things to improve their chances of creating a promising game.

  1. Flexibility- be open to the possibility of any story turning into a game
  2. Formatting- use recyclable formats
  3. Testing- It’s important to test games out. If you don’t like it readers won’t either.
  4. And always rework games over and over again. They are never right the first time.

As newsroom continue to try and find ways to utilize games as a means of story telling, companies such as Playable Stories are working on the answer. Playable Stories received a grant in May of 2015 to build a tool to make it easier for reporters to create news games. This means they can spend less time worrying about the mechanics and focus on content.

Playable stories also conducted a survey which revealed that while many journalist thought games could have a positive effect on the newsroom, the majority have not attempted to create one. The study went further to say that the vast majority agreed news games should be engaging, but said it was more important for games to be based on sound reporting, data, and research.

So is there a place for games in the newsroom? The answer is maybe.

Maybe a story could be told if sound research is done and projected through a provided format. If that is done it should then be tested in the newsroom and testers should look for things like simplicity, engagement/ entertainment, and whether or not the game is informative. Once that is done they should then ask themselves questions like does the game trivialized the subject matter? And is this the best format to tell a story?

Above all games as a means to tell a story is just one tool of many in a tool box. There will be days when you need a hammer and there will be days when you need a screwdriver. Journalist must know which stories require what tool and why that tool is fitting for the job.