I've been terrible about blogging...it's just not in my daily routine...so I've been letting others on our Knight grant team take up the slack. But now I really do have something to share that I hope spurs some comments and feedback (it will be very helpful as we grapple with these challenges.)
I'm going to be speaking on a panel on Games and Journalism at the Games for Change conference in New York on June 5th. In coordinating the panel, the moderator asked us to send in a little bit about what our angle would be. Here's what I wrote up...
"I've been doing some eyetracking and usability research on different games that have been created for news organizations. One is Budget Hero by American Public Media / MPR. (It hasn't launched yet.) Others are ones on the Discovery Channel, made by a former news graphics guy who is now a professor of multimedia at UNC.
These efforts by news organizations demonstrate the real challenge for news on two fronts - game play and news / information content:
-- If you make the game too simple, gamers are bored or distainful and won't play (or they say, "This would be fine for little kids" -- and little kids aren't a real target audience for most news sites.)
-- If you make the game too complex, non-gamers don't get it and won't play (and the real gamers still won't think it is complex enough...there's lots of "I don't really play online games / Flash games.)
-- If you make the content too "fun", it makes serious topics (like federal spending) seem trivalized and people really interested in the topic get huffy (one long-time MPR listener played the Budget Hero game and said "The responses to my budgets choices were insulting.")
-- If you make the content too serious, it won't appeal to those mostly likely to be drawn to a "game" approach to the news. There was a lot of "Well, the game is ok, I just won't want to spend any time with this topic / I don't know anything about this topic." (Which is, of course, precisely, and admirably, what MPR's trying to overcome.)
Throw in the challenge of "objective" information presentation and you really make news gaming tough.
The eyetracking / usability research we have been doing scares me as a news issues game grantee / developer, but has also opened up my eyes to potential ways around some of these issues. We are exploring several of these options.
My other angle will be the need for assessment of the effectiveness of these approaches to creating an informed and engaged citizenry and the need, if they are found to be effective ways to inform, to make their creation easy enough for a newsroom to unplug one set of content and plug in new information about a new issue that people should understand deeply."
We have our work cut out for us...and we thank those who are boldly going forward with exploration in this area of media content development. It is a real challenge -- thus the name of the grant program. ;>)