After a lot of fits and starts, we are ready to deploy two different versions of the “Playing the News” prototype games. One uses a simulated environment that allows the user to visit various locations to interview stakeholders on the topic of the use of ethanol as fuel. The user plays the role of a legislative research assistant helping a U.S. Senator prepare for hearings on the topic. The user can visit a variety of locations and talk to auto dealer sales reps, farmers, advocacy groups for and against corn ethanol, environmentalists and others. After the user visits the locations he/she chooses, there is a final “quiz” that assesses the amount of information the user has gained about the use of corn ethanol as a fuel. The user gains a certain number of points as an “issues master” based on the results of the quiz.

The other version is based on the classic board game “Clue.” The player moves from one location to another to gather information about the use of ethanol as a fuel. The user draws cards that have questions about the topic, and must choose the right “answer” by clicking on the appropriate square on the game board. Again, the player collects points by gathering correct answers and can build up his/her expertise by visiting all of the different locations on the game board.

The idea is that the front-end “build tool” for each of these different versions will allow newsroom professionals to “plug and play” for any topic they might be covering in an ongoing manner. We envision both serious news topics and softer features (“should I choose a cat or a dog as a pet?”) fitting into the game models. The “build tool” will make it easy and fast for news professional to update the games on their online sites. There could also be mobile versions of the games, and multiple topics for which there are games running simultaneously. There could also be contests among readers who could compete for high scores on the games the newsrooms post — with the possibility of selling ad space, sponsorships or other monetizing elements depending on the topics.

The first round of user testing will begin shortly. The intention is to determine which game version, if any, users gravitate towards, and which one we should focus on for developing the “build tool.”

We should have some interesting results from the testing to share in a month or so. We hope to be able to deliver a prototype “build tool” based on our initial testing as a “proof of concept” to meet the Knight Challenge goals. We will share more information as we have it.