Over the weekend, TechCruch's confessed "old media snob" Paul Carr posted an interesting response to my call for more newsgames. In the post, Mr. Carr was quite complimentary to my overall reasoning, but differed in one fundamental respect:
Maybe I'm getting old. Certainly I'm an old media journalism snob. But the fact is, when faced with the fact that an increasing number of people can't process news without a game element, my instinct is to reply... well... fuck 'em."
And of course, he wasn't alone. I have seen a few tweets from folks who were sympathetic to his view: News is not a game. And creating games is just a way of appealing to the lowest common denominator, and furthering the decline and fall of our informed populace.
That view starts with a fundamental conceit: Games, particularly videogames, are making us dumber. Maybe it's a symptom, or maybe it's the cause. But in either case, embracing games is just furthering that decline.
Of course, lot's of folks (not me) would make the same argument about social media, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and just about everything that seems to be feeding our short-attention-span-theater mode of media conception.
Here's why I think that's wrong. First, my own view on videogames has changed a lot over the past year as I've begun to play them again myself and as I've interviewed lots of folks who also play. While videogames are new-ish, our playing of games stretches back centuries. And the reasons the best games appeal to us, new and old, is because they tap into some fundamental aspects of human behavior and psychology.
That is why, I think, the videogames have now become our biggest form of popular entertainment, surpassing movies and TV and recorded music. That's a sizable audience embracing a powerful or experiential media and storytelling.
Now, Carr essentially makes the elitist argument, that people have always been too stupid and lazy to educate themselves about the most important issues of the day. And while I wouldn't quite choose his way of characterizing that, it's true that it's always been toughest to get people to engage with the most complex reporting, especially about policy issues like climate change or government budgets. You can always get more people to read about Britney Spears' latest travails than about the debate over where to place new sewer lines in your community. That was true pre-Internet, and it's true today.
Games, I think, offer a unique way to create engagement around those loftier topics that we believe are important for a healthy civic debate, as well as less meatier ones. And perhaps this is being a bit pollyanish, but I still believe that we all benefit as a community when more people are informed and engaged on the most important topics that affect all of us.
To turn our back on those who can't or won't engage in the news, is a mistake that will still affect the rest of those who do engage. Games, then, are not a way to pander to the news illiterate, but rather a way to leverage a powerful storytelling medium to improve the quality of our civic discussions.
Photo by thehoneybunny via Flickr.