Our Knight project is to create a toolset that would make the creation of a news simulation environment / game space easy for a somewhat motivated newsroom. The goal is to see if it would work to use a highly graphical and interactive environment as a way of presenting those “important but (too often) boring” issues in a community. Would this kind of presentation of the often complex and conflicting facets of an issue lead to greater citizen engagement, understanding, and action taking?

We had some experience with creating a game, a mod of Neverwinter Nights that we used for the Information for Mass Communication course at the University of Minnesota. In the game, we created a town populated with 24 different “stakeholders” or potential information sources that the player / reporter had to choose amongst in order to complete their reporting assignment. We created a fictional situation, populated the city with fictional characters (but did embed real documents and information into the game, as well.) It has been a successful technique for getting students to be sensitive to the stages involved in seeking information, practice good interviewing etiquette, etc.

But now, thinking about using this type of environment to create a scenario based on real situations, involving real stakeholders, and absent the motivation (“gotta play the game to get the grade” is a powerful motivator for undergrads) how could we create something with enough of the elements of game play to make it be, in fact, a game but that does not trivialize or homogenize the important issues being presented.

We struggle with what would be the motivation for playing. Games have a goal, and a reward system that clearly lets the player know they have won (or not.) Is just “getting smarter about an issue” motivation enough to play? What could the challenge be?

We struggle with the issue of representing “reality” in a virtual space. Do the confines of journalistic practice and ethics make it harder to graphically represent someone who really exists? Do we need to make generic anyone specific? How do we represent a space that actually exists within a fictional space?
How true to reality do we have to be?

What is the level of complexity that we can expect a news issues game player to tolerate? Make it too simple and it will be distained by seasoned players (who, frankly, are the audience most needed by the news industry). Make it too complex or impenetrable for the non-game player and you’ll miss out on the goal of getting citizens involved in community issues.

One of the greatest benefits of being part of the Knight News Challenge community is the access we have to people who are really tuned in to innovations online. As we sort through our planning and development of this game project (and as other issues come up) it is going to be so great to have this forum for comment, advice, and, probably, some well-deserved “what were you smoking when you thought of that?” feedback!

I have to admit I haven’t been a blogger for any number of practical, philosophical, and probably psychological reasons – but I’m glad that this is a part of the Knight News Challenge challenge…to blog the progress and process of our project. Thanks to all who set this up. I look forward to being part of the conversation.