Here is another report from our research assistant Fabio Berzaghi on the progress we are making on “Playing the News.” Our struggle is to come up with embedded games that do not clash with the content of the topic or issue being addressed by the news organization. One of our “test” issues is a feature-type article on whether a potential pet owner should consider getting a cat or a dog. Here is a glimpse into what Fabio and Jesse Crafts-Finch were testing.

Today I finally had a chance to work closely with Jesse, the producer/game designer at the Johnson Simulation Center. We made a list of the game concepts we talked about and we each picked 3 or 4 designs. We then wrote a short one page design document about the purpose of the game itself, a short summary of how the game works, the learning objective implementation, difficulty/content complexity, how to engage the player and what challenges the game offers.

After writing about 7 documents we then exchanged designs and critiqued each other’s ideas. We also did some testing with one of the design ideas. My idea was to create a clone of the notorious racing game Pole Position and post the issues related information on billboards on the side of the track. Jesse wanted to test if this was a good idea so he wrote a sentence like “cats have more dander than dogs” on a A4 white sheet of paper. Then we went out and he held the sheet while I was running towards him to simulate the effect of a car moving towards a billboard. I also limited my field of vision by putting my hands on my temples.

I had to slow down almost to walking pace to read the sign. But I think the sign should have been bigger and bold. The test was somewhat helpful but needs further testing. The next step is to decide which of the designs we want to actually put in a digital format. We already have a working Arkanoid-clone prototype.

For the kind of tool we want to produce we are struggling with creating a game whose mechanics teach effectively and is also general enough to allow a newsroom to adapt it to a great range of different topics and use the same tools. Feeding text and then throwing in a random game, any sort of game, is not the answer, and it is where a lot of educational games fail.

From my personal experience, a lot of games taught me several things, like rules in a sport and English among other things, but those games were made with the objective of entertaining and not teaching or educating. The challenge is how to combine both aspects. There is a game called Typing of The Dead. Instead of shooting to kill the zombies, you need to type as fast as you can. Isn’t this a neat idea for how to teach people to type faster or better?! It has to be intrinsic to the game, and in order to do that the game design needs be tailored to a specific set of information or topic, otherwise it is not that effective or precise.

Now what we can do is create a few different tools to give to the newsroom: one could be mini-games with integrated information (what we are currently working on), and another idea is coming along. From now on I think we should keep our feet on the ground so we don’t get too disappointed. It’s a hard challenge, we are working on it…”

Fabio Berzaghi