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Newsgames 2016

Good day! Welcome on my little website about Newsgames. There is not that much going on here due to the fact that i am busy running a Game Studio and running around talking about Newsgames at various places like the Global Editors Network summit in Vienna. Check out the panel here. Or read the article on Journalism.co.uk. And make sure to check the Nieman Storyboard Story. Otherwise drop me a line and we can talk about the combination of games and journalistic content. We at the Good Evil have recently done some game design for the infamous german tv-show Heute Show. You can check out Metadatensauger and Debatten-Debakel. Right now we are working on a game for the public broadcaster RBB. It will include a fox. That is all we can say right now. Some month ago we published the Media Freedom Navigator – a mobile website about freedom of press indices. It includes a quiz. More infos can be found in the Newsgames section at the Good Evil (mostly german), on my personal site (mostly german) and some actual stuff  on Twitter (mostly english). Feel free to ask if you want to know more. For starters: Here is an faq in german i compiled some time ago. If you want to have your very own Hackathon. We can help you. We have organized Europe´s first Newsgames Hackathon and the first one in Switzerland too. You want to start right now: Try our Newsgames Idea Generator.

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Publishing a Newsgame

Publishing in the digital age is pretty simple. You upload a folder. And that is all. You and me and everybody we know are publishers. We all know that this leads to a situation of constant content overload and many many shrugs while people use the internet. Why the heck am i supposed to invest precious time on something when i could be stalking friends or watch free porn?!

Still every content-publisher longs for attention, recognition, love or at least some sort of feedback. No feedback at all means that you actually do not exist in terms of internet currency. There are many fantastic and even more applaudable obscure projects somewhere out there but can they actually exist on their own without at least some human beings using them? I do not know and leave this discussion to digital philosophers contemplating deserted parts of diverse app-stores.

Yesterday evening we uploaded Prism – the Game and deep in our heart we longed for recogniation. What a priceless feeling when tweet after tweet comes pinging in. Pretty sure that you can get addicted to instant digital feedback. Whatever. Truth told: We invested time checking out a pretty small niche. Newsgames is not a topic that normally gets people freaking out in joy and ecstasis. In addition others have written about a certain Big Brother fatigue.

So maybe we already missed the perfect point to launch the game. Apart from that we are happy to discuss the game mechanic. It was fairly simple. Something that was criticized. Fair enough. We totally agree. Time was short and HTML5 is not the easiest when it comes to programming games. Maybe we should try out Game Maker or Game Salad next time. We like Pippin Barrs attempt playing around with the former.

In the end we are quite content with 131 page visits on the first day. That may not sound very much, but we are quite happy with the likes of people that dropped by. Among them a bunch of digital journalists, a bunch of game thinkers, makers and critics and others. Special thx go out to Gonzalo Frasca, John C. Osborn Florent Maurin and Nick Diakopoulos.

This was a very first attempt to dive into the topic of actual newsgame-production. We are very happy to discuss the topic. Just drop us a line over at the Good Evil.

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Programming a Newsgame

We wanted to present you a playable game today! Obviously we are not. We were to ambitious. The rough prototype was working yesterday. But now the game has some issues. It does not work in some browsers and there is a bunch of little but vicious bugs. As always.

If we have learned one thing during the last months it is that developing games takes time. And the finishing and polishing takes a hell lot of time. One of the major problems of Newsgames because News is a major part of the composed noun. An while working on the actual project time flies, things evolve, change and you can not do very much but  watch how other news appear on the general agenda.

That is why clever people are working on game generating tools which for now happen to remain in some sort of beta-status but might one day help solve the magic triangle problem. Time is short. Quality is supposed to be high. And yeah the cost should be – well – moderate. We played around with Game-o-matic but it did not produce anything useful in our case. We have heared from other projects and are very curious even if we are not convinced yet.

I imagine these frameworks as some sort of pre-designed theme. And everybody who has ever played around with these when it comes to website-design knows that the real mess begins when you start pimping these the way you actually want or think that you want to.

Whatever. The Good Evil promised a #Newsgamesweek. And this is what you get. Day three. Two more to come…

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Designing a Newsgame

The most important part of a game is its mechanic. The very best graphic design and a stunning soundtrack will not pay off if the core is flat or poorly executed. However a brilliant mechanic alone will not automatically make a fantastic game. There is an ongoing broad discussion what makes a good game. Actually nobody can foresee and nobody owns secret ingredients to cast a spell over raw game drafts.

The thing with Newsgames or games for purpose in general is that they are supposed to deliver more than just fun – which actually happens to be hard enough. The desirable outcome of Newsgames should be implanted into the game mechanic in order not to disturb the player but to get him while playing. Following the rule “Show don´t tell” the meaning of a game shall unfurl in the brain of the player.

Very few Newsgames are able to do that. Because it is very hard to achieve.  Many Newsgames just copy already existing game concepts. Because this is fairly easy. Actually we have done the deed. Why? Because it seemed to be the best option to accomplish a complete game in a short period of time. And the usage seemed to fairly fit the context.

My personal problem with a bunch of current Newsgames is that the game play very often remains rather static. I was wishing for a dynamic arcade-like game play in order to follow a rule by Marc Prensky: A good game-based learning experience should be so much fun, that people not interested in the whole topic would definitely want to play the game.

Maybe that is why Space Harrier came to my mind.

Why does this game make sense in the context of PRISM?

We want to enable the player to actually feel how the scanning of personal data works and what it means. Therefore it was necessary to abstract from the actual process. As much as we know algorithms scan large amounts of data automatically which then are evaluated, edited and presented to a human user. Nevertheless a human user was, is and will be part of the work. Strangers have the ultimate power to sniff about private details of every single person on the internet for the sake of a government-defined concept of security even though “the hard numbers on terrorism invalidate the current policies“.

While many people in the US and abroad seem to tolerate this approach we want to make a point in the debate over the balancing act between security and liberty. The opponents in our game are not killer frogs, flying dragons or aliens but  people like you and me. People with a bunch of secrets, dreams and desires that belong to them alone. Every time a single piece of data is scanned, privacy is violated for the sake of control.

Prism – the game can best be understood as political commentary in the tradition of Gonzalo Frasca´s September 12th. We will release a playable version soon even if it may not alter the Big Brother Fatigue

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Brainstorming a (PRISM-)Newsgame

It is easy to discuss, critizise and condemn attempts to push things forward. The harder part is to actually produce stuff. That is why we at the Good Evil have set up our very first #Newsgamesweek. Our goal is to produce an actual working Newsgame. While doing that we want to reflect problems and insights.

So, how do you start producing a Newsgame? First you need a topic and a game-idea. And then you have to think about a crucial point: If Newsgames are supposed to serve the interests of journalism – how can you implement a game that plays out advantages over traditional ways of journalism?

I spent the entire weekend reading the papers, checking current topics, articles, etc. in order to find the right working point. There were two major required criteria for what i was looking for:

  • Relevance beyond the day and beyond region
  • Possibilities for a useful application of game mechanics at first glance

First finding: You do not open the newspaper, point to a random article and then decide to make a game out of it. Well, that basically was clear from the start. There is a vast variety of  forms of journalistic presentation. They should be chosen carfully. In the 21st century the topic defines the form. Not the other way round!

So when do you chose to implement a Newsgame?

When the usage of a game mechanic provides insights that you would not get while let´s say – reading a report. The Cutthroat Capitalism Example by Wired in 2009 (!) is still a good example how a game adds up to traditional ways of reporting: Putting a newsgame to the test. Earlier examples of games show that it is possible to use games in the context of news if you do not have actual source material (Osama) or as political comment ( September 12th). Journalism should embrace new modes of thinking about news that include such interactive resources:

Games have the huge advantage that they can provide an interactive experience. And it makes a huge difference if you read about the D-day or if you actually experience it.

Games are very good at providing insights into systems. While a well-written reportage might be best for immersive storytelling, a game like SimCity might teach you more about city planning in half an hour than a vast article.

 

Back to the  actual news flow. It was dominated by the complex and developing story of #Prism and the #NSA. The guardian has been the most precious source for information on the topic. If you are not into the whole thing read this Q&A first.

What is the scandal?

The US´s National Security Agency (NSA), its wiretapping agency, has been monitoring communications between the US and foreign nationals over the internet for a number of years, under a project called Prism.

What data is being monitored?

Potentially, everything. The PowerPoint slide about Prism says it can collect “email, chat (video, voice), videos, photos, stored data, VoIP [internet phone calls], file transfers, video conferencing, notifications of target activity – logins etc, online social networking details” and another category called “special requests”.

Besides the many aspects of this unprecedented case of privacy and basic liberties destruction these questions struck me the most:

  • How does it work?
  • What does all this mean for the evolution of western societys in the 21st century?

The NSA is not saying how Prism works. The Guardian quotes a source that suggests, “they might have search interfaces (at an administrator level) into things like Facebook, and then when they find something of interest can request a data dump.“ Apart from that nobody knows how effective this has been. And the further outcomes are totally unclear as well.

From now on we will start working on a Prism-Newsgame that is – beyond others – being inspired by these postings:


Our idea

To come up with a playable proposal how PRISM looks and works on a desktop computer situated at the NSA Headquarter. We are pretty sure that the NSA -although still clinging to a Windows 95 look – embraces gamification to monitor and surveil internet users worldwide.

 

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Games + News = ♥

Paperboy - Video Game Cover Image

Paperboy is a 1984 arcade game by Atari Games – Newsgames were invented 17 years later

Basically the idea is pretty straight forward and it goes like this: News + Games = Newsgames. Newsgames is a name for games put to use in the context of journalism. They serve the interests of journalism – in the broadest sense. From a playable political cartoon to a simulation of Osama bin Ladens death.

Newsgames perfectly fit in the Games For Change context. Because they change something. They change you. Like a great article or a good radio piece they have the power to show you something new, to evoke a feeling and quite frequently result in concrete action.

Don´t mention the word

I stopped eating squid right after listening to NPR´s story about pig rectum being used as a Substitute. I donated money after reading an article about Skateistan – a Skateboard NGO for youth in Afghanistan. And games can even do more. Because they allow a personal interactive experience that might proof stronger than the linear consumption of news.

Problems is: If you mention the word newsgames in any newsroom, there is still a stigma. Andrew DeVigal says that in an current interview with the magazine Wired. DeVigal knows what he is talking about. For six years he was the Director of Multimedia at the New York Times.

A Newsgame from the UK (http://gamethenews.net/index.php/save-the-rhino-army-vs-poachers/)

The Rhino Wars is a british Newsgame originally featured on the Wired Website

DeVigal adds: „I don’t think we’ve pushed the boundaries with game-like interfaces“. And he is perfectly right. Twelve years after game designer and academic Gonzalo Frasca coined the term Newsgame, the genre has already had its up and downs but never really took off. There have been many attempts, notable results but at the same time most newsrooms simple have not yet understood the chances and possibilities concerning the usage of games.

One should applaud the brave ones that cling to the idea that the combination of news or journalism in its broadest sense on one side and game mechanics on the other side can and will provide extra value. Time wil prove them right!

Push the boundaries

It always was the combination of heterogenous things that pushed things forward. Just think about the combination of a simple personal computer and a plain telephone. Together they somewhat formed the fundament for the internet as we know it.

There is a Chinese Proverb: Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand. Therefore we need more Newsgames. To understand better, to learn and to change.

A bunch of links

This is a crossposting from the Games For Change Europe Website

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Newsgames 2014

After Buzzfeed has revealed ambitions to create a studio for news games quite a bunch of people are showing new interest in interactive forms of journalism. And a lot of stuff is going on in various parts of the media ecosystem. We – the Good Evil Game Studio – are happy to be part of the movement. After having organised Europe´s First Newsgames Hackathon with a lot of fantastic people we had the chance to present, discuss and try out the topic at the Reporterforum at Der Spiegel in Hamburg, at the Games For Change Europe Conference in Paris and at this years Reeperbahnfestival and the Play14 conference. Check our Vine-Prototypes from the workshop here. And if you want to start doing Newsgames. Do it. And make sure to check out our Newsgames Idea Generator.

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Hello. Goodbye.


So. I finished my Master Thesis. And you can call me “Master of Game Development and Research” from now on. Together with Linda i started a Game Studio for Serious Games, Newsgames and Games For Change or however you want to call Games With A Purpose other than “just” having fun. Come on over. Thx. Marcus

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Terrorhunter…

This site is more or less sleeping right now. I concentrate on writing my master thesis about the usage of drones in the military / games context until fall 2012. Thx, Marcus

Crossposting from the Cologne Game Lab Blog:

Marcus Boesch graduated from the University of Cologne with an MA in political science and information technology. He has been working as a journalist and lecturer for Germany´s international broadcaster Deutsche Welle. The concept for his Master project TERRORHUNTER has been commissioned by the State Center for Political Education North Rhine-Westphalia. Marcus writes:

My Master thesis revolves around the topics terror, security and surveillance. Therefore I am interested in a bunch of „What ifs“.

What if more technology becomes so easy to use that private individuals can solve complex tasks with the help of computer-based automation and simple user interfaces? What if we then bring together all currently available surveillance technologies with the possibilities of interconnected smartphones and put these in the hands of people?

What if homeland security, danger defense and the war on terror will not only include private players on one side but on the other as well? What if we then combine the private usage of drones with the private usage of weapons?

Well, maybe all hell breaks loose here …

Games and simulations are powerful tools to provide a glimpse into possible future scenarios. That is why the military has been using them for training, tactical analysis and mission preparations for centuries. The growing power of personal computers allowed some of the military simulations to migrate from larger institutions to individual hobbyists. In turn military mission training can nowadays be completed on an off-the-shelf smartphone.

That is why I am designing a game-like trainings-app that allows the player to experience modern means of seek-and-destroy technology in the palm of their hands. TERRORHUNTER allows you to kill terrorists in the Afghanistan-Pakistan Borderland with your smartphone while sitting on the tram thousands of kilometers away. Actually, all that is necessary to enable such a dystopian scenario is to combine already existing trends and technologies.

The goal of my game is to strengthen a critical discourse. In order to criticize one needs to know and to understand. Games or game-like experiences play a crucial role here because they provide a powerful experience – at least if they are good. The most powerful experiences are always bound to strong myth, says Jesse Shell. The myth of good and bad might be one of the strongest myth around. I tried to link that myth to actual events in the post-911-world.

All „future-technologies“ used in the game are out there. We just have to wait for proper microdrones with light weapons. While waiting we should not forget that it is possible right here and right now to earn money live-monitoring shops in the UK via Internet, stalking CCTV-suspects with an app published by Scotland Yard and that automatic face detection gets better and better every single day. Right now hundreds of unmanned aerial vehicles are patrolling the skies. Time to strike back?!

And now? Let´s spend 49 Minutes and 35 seconds with the documentary Remote Control War!

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How To Kill The Tyrant

Yet another Flash-Newsgame. That was my first reaction to the Syrian Revolt Mini Game. At first glance problems seem to be obvious. The protests in Syria startet in January 2011, escalating to an uprising in March. The Syrian government used tanks and snipers early on (2011 Syrian uprising). So maybe the game is a bit late to be called a NEWSgame?! Apart from that the game is very easy and very short. No contextualising infos, no progress, no narrative.

Nonetheless the game has some points. You can not succeed a tank with a protest sign. That sound obvious. But you experience that on your own. You get immediately killed. And try again. You can not do that in real life. It makes you want to grab a gun to go on further. This game makes you angry. Because you can not succeed.

The Achievemt during the game is to try and to get more and more so called ‘Bravery Points’ while playing the game – that might be read as a witty comment on dopamin-lusty war reporters. I never got more than 800 ‘Bravery Points’. That is not much to die for. And you can not do anything with these points.

I am pretty sure that the game mechanic could be enhanced. There should be a way to overthrow the regime. Maybe with the help of more protesters or with asymmetric warfare tactics. Till then the game remains interesting but a bit shallow – even though one could argue that the purpose of the game is to be left alone helpless as a player coupled with an implicit call to action: Do something. At least – get informed.

That would leave the small game as an entry point to a range of news services and stories in a transmedia setting. Not the worst thing to be for a start.

I criss-crossposted this post here and there. That is why i add Florents comment exactly here:

Yes, “nice” game here, yet once again a plain use of the “rhetoric of
failure” (copyright Ian Bogost, I think). The same one you meet in September 12th, and countless other editorial newsgames.

Maybe the designers could have set a cumulative “bravery point” score, let’s say a million points, and challenged users all over the world to play the game and reach this “tipping point” together, cumulating their scores and
sacrificing characters to finally overthrow the Syrian regime…

And now for something completely different: ITV Gaddafi documentary claimed videogame was terrorist footage

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Life Is A Datacoaster

I do not know if you ever played Rollercoaster Tycoon. If you have never ever played it, it may sound odd to transform a recreational fun in the real world into a computer game, when the most fun part is being physically shaken while you dash down, scream and expect to die. Strangely enough – it works. It is a total different experience. But it is worthwhile. Maybe because of the god-like-approach. Build a digital rollercoaster that will make people scream. Combine extreme building components as long as applied physics allow you to. Do things you would not dare to do in real life. For instance by intentionally forgetting the final parts of your rollercoaster. It could look like that…

Okay. That is the Gartner Hype Cycle – an overused chart. But – it could as well be – a not-yet finished-coaster. What about adding another chart to continue building something like a datacoaster?! That could be fun and that could teach about certain sets of data on the go. Maybe you can ride the Dow Jones when you choose and combine clever chunks of data. The Vancouver BC Real Estate Market is okay for a start. Unfortunately it is not yet playable. It was created using http://nolimitscoaster.com/

It would be interesting to play around with certain sets of data and a simple physics engine. Is that enough for a game? Could that lead to a datacoaster-framework? Would that at all make sense and provide useful interactive content for a news-app?

Update:

Just to add some contextual reading material. Nick Diakopoulos has written about Playable Data here proposing the term game-y information graphics which take raw datasets from sources … and create playable visualizations by adding elements of goals, rules, rewards, and mechanics of play… Interested readers can see the paper for all of the details.

This makes sense if you look at current infographic framework trends (AVE, Dipity, Tiki-Toki) that do or do not look shiny but forget about interaction, immersion and experience. More on game mechanics for a start at Lost Garden.

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Connecting the dots

Long time no see. And now i bore you with a Steve Jobs reference for a start. To cite Mister Apple might not be very witty but i instantly had to think about his Stanford Commencement Speech 2005 when thinking about the last months. What i have done during the summer is somewhat best described with dotting around, collecting inspirations, reading and thinking around the topic of the blog, circling around the question: Can You Play The News? Should You Play The News? Should The News Be Playable At All? Why? When? And how? Oh, wait. Here is an anecdote by gamedesigner Jesse Schell.

“As I looked around for more examples of techniques to try, there was one juggler who stood out from the rest. He was an old man in a powder blue jumpsuit, and his tricks wre not like the others at all. He used patterns and rythms that were unique, and his tricks, through not astonishing in difficulty, were simply beautiful to watch. […]
I watched him for about twenty minutes, and suddenly he looked at me, and said “Well?”
“Well what?” I said, kind of embarrassed.
“Aren’t you going to try to copy me?”
“I- I don’t think I would know how,” I stammered out.
He laughed. “Yeah, they never can. Know why my tricks look so different?”
“Uh, practice?,” Imanaged.
“No – everybody practices. Look around! They’re all practicing. No, my tricks look different because of where I get them. These guys , they get their tricks from each other. Which is fine – you can learn a lot that way. But it will never make you stand out.”
“I thought about it. “So where do you get them?” I asked. “Books?”.
“Ha! Books. Thats a good one. No, not books. You wanna know the secret?”
“Sure”
“The secret is: don’t look to other jugglers for inspiration – look everywhere else”. (Jesse Schell, The Art of Game Design, Burlington/MorganKaufmann, 2008 pp58/59) You get the point i presume….

What i found most interesting and compelling during the last months was a mixture of a bunch of art games, activist games, game trailers, user experience stuff and transmedia literature that struck me. I – for instance – liked stuff on the site http://oujevipo.fr. Try this game about smoking, drinking coffee and checking your mobile as an example. The site (not the game) is obviously run by Pierre Corbinais whom i found because he has written a Master Thesis about Newsgames (It´s in french).

I liked and played Limbo – at Lindas place on a huge screen in total darkness for hours. I like the dense atmosphere and the very simple yet stricing idea with a focus on story. I liked Aram Bartholls idea Dust because of its architectural approach. And Flee Buster because of the stress disorder it provokes. And i liked Cory Arcange´s Pro Tools exhibiton at Whitney – at least the Various Self Playing Bowling Games because of the historical and the interactive component.

Of course the Cologne Notgames Fest was an inspiration as well when it comes to core game actions and to hack ideas of gaming in generell. Yes, even if that means cleaning windows with Wes W. Wilson.

Apart from that Warco – The News Game (!)  looked interesting because of the camera-instead-of-a-gun-in-your-hand-thing. Pippin Barr´s Leisure-Suit-Larry-Sierra-meets-Moma-Abramovic was just plain cool. The cultural references of the Deus Ex 3 Game Trailer were interesting when seen under the influence of the “Videogames and Learning“- Video. And so was and is reading “The Art of Immersion” by Frank Rose. Even if others already condemn the term Immersion while trying to establish the term Incorporation.

I liked the visuals aesthetics of many casual games by Gree and the activist part of Phone Story. And so on. And so on. Not to forget influence by @craigmod and Koi Vinh and Daniel Cook and many others. So now – exactly what?!

My Master Thesis Preparation Phase at CGL started yesterday. From this point on i will use this blog as a work in progress area for the Master Thesis that will be finished in the summer of 2012. I will reflect and discuss progress and setback on the go. And i will work on the Ressources Section pretty soon. For now let me finish with my guiding question so far.

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Why News Organisations Need Game Designers

Nice, not yet a newsgame

Lorenz Matzat pointed me to an article about the “Hybrid iPad Game and Article” in the May 2011 edition of the Popular Mechanics iPad app. Popular Mechanics is an American magazine first published January 11, 1902. It is mainly about technology and science and its iPad app went live in July 2010 – “loaded with an earthquake finder, 3D building plans, a live newsfeed, and some of our best articles from recent issues enhanced with video, animations and more.”

Currently we can witness the evolution of apps – when it comes to usability, concept and smartness. Good to see, that apps in the wide spectrum of news obviously try to bring in game-like features. I am pretty sure that this will show proper ways of presenting engaging and interactive content that will provide meaningful experiences.

Now for the sadder part. There is still a long way to go. The game itself is something more than a throwaway. Touchdown has you landing on several planets but choosing the right landing craft design for the environment. The player has to determine if humans or robots are best to man the flight, what kind of propulsion is right for the atmosphere and the style of reentry … The information provided about the player selections is instructive, and the video and audio effects dramatizing the landing are fun. That is what Steve Smith writes in the article already mentioned above.

Click for a not embeddable explanatory video by Popular Mechanics

I disagree, because i am convinced that Touchdown is not a ‘real’ game at all. While the whole thing looks bright and shiny it feels shallow after the second try. It is not an emotionally engaging experience and the level of interactivity is very thin. Basically the player can choose three variables/buttons and then strech out and wait. Apart from that the outcome is totally the same for all players all the time. Games resolve their uncertainty in unequal outcomes. A fundamental part of gameplay is that it is uncertain, says Tracy Fullerton in the book “Game Design Workshop”.

It has nothing to do with the limitation to three ‘buttons’. Just think about the ‘hammer the buttons’-style controls of a game like Track & Field. It has something to do with the lack of strong game mechanics. The reason for that is given directly by the editors of Popular Mechanics themselvesIn true PM do-it-yourself style, Touchdown was created mainly by staff members. The scenarios were written by PM science contributor Michael Belfiore, and the design, animation and programming were executed in-hous.

 

Touchdown has a nice interface, nice sounds and effects. Speaking with Chris Crawford one could say that the game is doing a good job while ‘speaking’ but not a good job while ‘listening’ and ‘thinking’. See Crawford´s Fundamentals of interactivity.

As with many so called ‘serious games’ – the ones involved often have not a proper game design background. While i cherish the diy-approach i would advice more thinking on the mechanics to strengthen the product and to justify – some months to get the project finished.

Equal outcomes for all

The chances and opportunities with games as active part of digital journalism are broad and beauftiful. After the first wave of data viszualisations has reached the mole, we should think of how to bring in game mechanics to enhance the experience. The Guardian´s Path of protest already looks like a game and that controller on the left already feels like an old school joystick or control paddel. Maybe one could and should bring in serious game mechanics now.

Of course revolutions in the real world are not a game. But this argument does not fit. As journalists we should better think about proper ways of getting a point across and how to inform the public besides pure and naked news. In an age of constant information overload the demand for aggregation, curation and explanation is increasing.

Why not use games to get an understanding for certain situations, the motives or the constraints of systems. Playing and learning are irrevocably connected. See Chris Crawford´s Phylogeny of Play. What we need now is a better understanding of how to apply game mechanics to journalistic content in a surrounding that does not come with a tradition of a graphical user interface but a natural user interface. The only chance at the moment: Trial and error. And that is why the team at Popular Mechanics deserves applause. And next time: Just bring in a ‘real’ game designer.

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Brazilian Newsgames

I am not able to speak or understand portuguese – together with more than 298 other languages. That is a shame and until Google or whoever will solve the global language mess we have to cling to english. I stumbled upon a blogpost from Fred by surprise. Florent had told me before, that there is a fluent newsgame-scene in Brazil. So? I did an Interview with Fred via Mail. Thank you very much Fred. And now people on the internet, get a cookie and lemonade and read on.

Fred, could you please introduce yourself?

Since 2009, I’m editor of the Internet Núcleo Jovem – which includes sites from SuperinteressanteMundo Estranho and Guia do Estudante. This sites are part of Editora Abril. Brazil’s media conglomerate Editora Abril S.A. is Latin America’s largest publishing and printing company. I graduated in journalism from UNESP (Sao Paulo´S State University) , in 2005. I also worked on sites from the Bizz magazine and I was editor of Entertainment in Abril.com. On this websites, I developed infographics, games, videos and strategies for social networks.

Why are you interested in Newsgames?

Well, I always loved to play games and I was really interested in multimedia productions when I graduated. So, when I started working in Editora Abril, in 2006, I made some experiences with lot of stuff, including games. In the begining, we didn’t even know that we were making newsgames. I worked in otherplaces for a while, and when I returned  to Superinteressante’s website, people were studying how to mix games and  news. Rafael Kenski was my boss, and he thought that  “we were creating the mix of news and games”, in 2008. But then, a journalist wrote “Superinteressante make the best newsgames of Brazil”. And then, we realized: “Oh, so what we do is called newsgames”. It was funny. Well, Rafael Kenski – who was a pioneer in ARGs in Brasil too – left Abril and I became the editor, so we started to produce a lot of newsgames.

Brazil seems to be a place where Newsgames are being used. Could you name a handful of existing brazilian Newsgames?

Well, I think we are the team that produced more newsgames in Brazil. Our first games were very simple: “Stripquiz” (sexual education for male teenagers) for Mundo Estanho and “Soviets: The USSR Puzzle” for Aventuras na História. Then, Superinteressante’s team produced one of the best: “CSI“, a misterious adventure about forense police. I really like “Mafia’s Game“, “Electoral Race” and “Brazil in Second World War” too. The most popular was “BBB – Paredão da Personalidade“, about a famous reality show (Big Brother). It recently won a prize here

Well, in other sites you have: “O Desafio dos craques” – about soccer, and the political “Audio Pops” and “Quais candidatos pensam igual a você?“. You have good interactive infographics too like: “Onde atuam os jogadores da Copa 2010” ou “Como funciona uma bateria de escola de samba“.

Do you know about the first Newsgame in Brazil?

Well is really hard to point who is the first one. “Nanopops” was a simple political newsgame made in the end of 2007. At the same time, here in Editora Abril, Felipe Van Deursen and Renata Aguiar developed “Soviet: The USSR Puzzle” in “Aventuras na História” website. A little time before that, we made “StripQuiz” in Mundo Estranho. But, at this time no one thought “we are producing newsgames”. We were just trying to make news look funny. People as Tiago Dória and Andre Deak – tech journalists – that started do study and classify our productions.

What is your favourite Newsgame in Brazil and why?

Well, I really like “CSI” because it has a great design, a good stpry and really brings information in a funny way. If you allow me to leave modesty aside, I’m very proud of “Mafia’s Game” too. We produced it in partnership with people of the printed edition, and I think it’s simple and eficient. A few months after we launched it, Wired Magazine – which is a benchmark for Superinteressante’s printed version – made a game very similar to ours, called “Cutthroat Capitalism. ” This game is featured in the book “NewsGames: Jounalism at Play. ” But we did it before. :-)

Who is behind these Newsgames? Are they done by Media Organisations? Or by independet developers? Who are the key players in that field?

Well, most of newsgames are produced inside newspapers’ websites offices or magazine’s websites offices. But, we don’t have a organized production. People use newsgames like a special resource.  Independent developers make more simple games like the cartoon “Zangief Kid – The Game”. You can see some educational games being produced by independent developers too. You can ALSO find good multimedia experiences in Abril’s sites (Superinteressante, Veja e Guia do Estudante), G1, Estadão and IG.

Veja, Superinteressante, IG, Estadão and Mundo Estranho already  won medals in Malofiej – the most important infographics prize.

Do you know about Newsgames in other Latin American countries?

No, unfortunately Brazil is still a little distant culturally from Spanish-speaking countries. We usually monitoring more sites and newspapers in English than in Spanish. But it has two multimedia stories that I really like, “Ruta 66” and “Cali La Ciudad que no Duerme

How do you see the future of Newsgames?

Well, I think that games are one of the more exciting kinds of media, and they help people to learn easily. I think that newsgames will be more social, like a mix of Zynga’s Games and journalism and I think that we will see some newsgames in Smart Phones and tablets too. The real newjournalism is the multimedia journalism. This is the future and we have plenty of possibilities to explore.

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Playing the News with Eric Brown

I already wrote about “Play the News” earlier. But it is always slightly different when you get the chance of meeting and talking to the people that actually have developed the game you are talking about. What struck me most when meeting Eric at the Exerlearning Conference in cologne was the obvious variety of defintions when it comes to the term ‘Newsgame‘ which of course always shape the result. Therefore i see an urgent need to gather and compare the variety of defintions in another post. But now, let me – with the gracious help of wikipedia – start with a post about Eric Brown and his version of Playing the News.

Before the Beginning

A good starting point to write about Eric Brown might be 2005. Eric is part of a small team of students of the Master of Entertainment Technology at the Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, a course mixing fine arts and computing. Together with the former Israel officer Asi Burak he is producer of a game called PeaceMaker – a government simulation game which simulates the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

A prototype of the game is presented at the Game Developers Conference in 2005. Given the excellent reception, Brown and Burak decide to complete the project, in order to distribute it to the general public and educators. After graduating, they founded the studio ImpactGames.

A deep level of subtlety

PeaceMaker receives positive reviews from both the gaming and general press. Ernest Adams from Gamasutra states that the game is “fun and challenging”, and holds a deep level of subtlety. He compares it to Balance of Power, a simulation of geopolitics during the Cold War, published by Chris Crawford in 1985. In July 2007, PeaceMaker is the most sold second PC game of the week in North America on Amazon.com.  As of February 2008, the game has sold 100,000 copies worldwide. The Peres Center for Peace funds a large-scale distribution of the game in Israel and Palestine.

Play the News

ImpactGames launches in February 2008 the program Play the News. It is a web-based platform used to publish mini-games based on the news. The idea is that interactivity allows a better understanding of an event, rather than passive reading. A game is designed to be played from ten to twenty minutes, and to be developed in a day.

The game is divided into three steps. The player has firstly access to information about the vent and its context, using timelines and maps. Then, he can play successively as the different protagonists of the event. He is asked to make a decision, following what he thinks the stakeholder should do. Finally, the player predicts shich decision the protagonist will make. When the player comes again later, he is informed of the decisions that were made in the real world. Play the News is built around a community, where every player has a profile. He may read statistics on the accuracy of his predictions and the tendency of his opinions.

Relaunch 2011

Shortly after the launch, Ian Bogost describes Play the News as “very casual”, and fears that it can be summarised as simple quizzes. He claims that the game has some potential to engage people with news, “by making them think about what will happen next and by creating a natural reason to read stories one otherwise might not” The game won in May 2009 the first “Knight News Game Awards”, awarded by the association Games for Change. It rewards “news game”, games that “enhances people’s ability to make decisions in a democracy”. ImpactGames sold the Play the News platform to Hybrid Learning Systems in summer 2010. In February 2011 Play the News as a platform was relaunched in conjunction with University of Missouri’s Reynolds Journalism Institute.

I just had my iPhone with me. No decent camera, no decent microphone and – worst of all – no tripod. Please excuse the poor quality. Headhones might help! Actually the iPhone did not allow to upload the edited version because it was longer than 10 minutes. Here is the raw stuff. The remaining 3 minutes can be found here. Thanks Eric!

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Looking for a Newsgame Wiki

This is a screenshot from “Pico´s School” an early Newsgame from 1999. I found it in Mark Nelson´s Newsgame Index that ends 2008. There have been other similar attempts to gather information about Newsgames. Mathias Poulsen set up a Tentative list of “Newsgames” – latest update: 101 days ago.

You can find the Gotham Gazette Games Archive and some Games about current Events at Games for Change and the article A Brief History of Newsgames but i have not found an overall Wiki that tries to bring all attempts to play the news together. No surprize: The Wikipedia article Newsgame is still a stub. And there is not even an entry for the beautiful french word “jeuportage” – that i learnt from Florent Maurin who runs a french Newsgame Blog for Le Monde.

Do you know of any other attempts to present some sort of archive or catalog for Newsgames? Do you think that such a thing would be useful and worth the effort? Can anyone recommend an easy and proper Wiki solution?

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Level 01

In order to get frequent updates on the site i decided to start writing some sort of roundups here and there. That seems to be the best way to reflect my current journey into Newsgames. Apart from that i find Sebastian Deterding´s #Gamification roundups very helpful. Make sure to watch his Google Tech Talk on the well-beloved topic ‘Gamification’ circling around Meaning, Mastery and Autonomy.

Okay, what did i do? I did a brief talk on Newsgames at the Ignite Cologne. Ignite means you are free to talk about any chosen topic if you restrict yourself to exactly 20 slides and a 15-second-auto-page-turn. I just wanted to give it a try, to see if i have enough to talk about, if i can focus on some sort of core basics and of course – i wanted to see  how a mixed audience of about 70 – 100 more or less tech savy people react. It worked out fine. And it was great fun! I gathered reactions over at Storify. My plan to convert the 20 slides into a playable version did not work out that well. I got some help from Peter – nevertheless the idea – that sounded new and intriguing to me  first – might not be that brilliant after all. Try it out over here. I quit just before adding a bunch of ananas-power-ups falling from the sky.

Mortiz Metz from the german radio tech show Breitband on Deutschlandradio Kultur asked me to do a piece on Newsgames. Thanks for that. I did a Skype Audio Interview with Simon Ferrari, messed up the last part of the recording with Audio Hijack Pro and got Nora Pauls Name wrong in the end. But especially talking to Simon was pretty interesting. Most of our talk will grow old on my hard drive but you can hear Simon talking about the future of Newsgames over at Tumblr. Here is the german radio piece.


Anything else?

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H.I.V. Extinction 1981

Okay, this is not a Newsgame. Why not? It is not about news. Nevertheless i am going to write about it, because it is my very first game that achieved some kind of feedback. Apart from that there are some things that somewhat refer to the fuzzy new genre of Newsgames and that need some discussion e.g. the length and duration of games and the game development process.

H.I.V. Extinction took 48 hours to produce. It is a result of the Global Game Jam 2011. You can play it here. Actually the game is quite simple: Back to the days. Disco! It is hot, sweaty & loud. It is 1981. The year that AIDS was first reported. Try to get as many falling hearts as possible. Get three of them to get a condom. Fire condoms at your fellow dancers. Make them bubble around!

Some people seemed to have liked it. Krystian Majewski wrote some nice stuff “It’s fair to say that Marcus Bösch blew everybody’s mind with this concept and it remains one of the audience’s favorites. It also seems like it caught some attention over at Gay Gamer. Dennis Farr made some excellent observations about the game there. I think this is a good example of how an game idea doesn’t need to be technically complicated to be effective.” Thanks for that. I really liked Dennis Farr´s observations!

Experiencing the whole development process taught me several things. Do what you do best and rely on the skills of other people to complete something. For me working together with a designer and a programmer obviously works best. Thanks to Tim (design) and Markus (programming) without their help there would be no game.

It is quite hard to see how long it takes to finish even very small products. This is a lesson that is crucial for Newsgames as well. Otherwise your newsevent is long gone and over before you even finish your game. I had to think about the question if you want to spend 2 or 10 hours on a product that people spend a maximum of some minutes with. Even so i am not very convinced about the idea of certain frameworks for Newsgames that could work like a cartoon-setting. On the other hand i have not seen one of these. Maybe it is a good idea after all. Another thing: i prefer it plain and simple. For getting a point across complexity should be within the game idea not in the visual appeal or the user experience.

Anything else?

Yes!

  • It’s book week at Brainy Gamer! Michael Abbott looks at three new books by Jane McGonigal (Reality is Broken), Ian Bogost (Newsgames, with collaborators Simon Ferrari and Bobby Schweitzer), and Tom Chatfield (Fun, Inc.). All three propose that games have the power to do important, transformative work, but they differ wildly in their goals and rhetorical strategies.
  • There is an article about Newsgames over at TechNewsDaily.
  • @ndiakopoulos has written an article about ‘Playing With Data
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Gamify the News

Sorry. Not that much going on around here. Meanwhile i wrote a book chapter about Mobile Reporting (german) and worked on some very basic Flash / Action Script Coding at the CGL. Nevertheless, i spent some time thinking about the evolving “Gamification” debate. I put together some information sources on gamification using Storify here. Nevertheless is still did not find time to built some sort of newsgames-archive even if that would be very useful. In the meantime Bobby Schweizer´s article about the history of newsgames has lots of links to games in it.

I think a chance of the actual  gamification debate – which is still very much in its infancy – is to open up the quite narrow niche of newsgames. I am very happy about that. Because my main interest was and still is to find ways to improve the possibilities of “doing news” on the internet in the 21st century. I think we do not need to argue about the fact that new ways and forms are actually needed 15 years after the New York Times launched online. Mediastorm´s Multimedia Productions will not show us the way into the next decade. Instead of talking about ‘lean forward’ and ‘lean back’ media i wish we would more talk about the way it feels to use media sites, about interaction, about generating experiences with or without game mechanics. Lorenz (@lorz) pointed me to a blogpost by Josh Korr. He writes about a new interesting project by Chris O`Brian.

Chris O’Brien of the San Jose Mercury News has launched NewsTopiaville, an interesting project that will “explore how game mechanics can be applied to reinvent the way we produce, consume and interact with news.” The project is ambitious, interesting, and worthwhile.

Yeah. It is. I especially like Chris´destinction of newsgames and gamification of news. He wrote about that and his project here.

For me, newsgames represent a way to reinvent storytelling. It is a contained object. Gamification is about bringing game mechanics to the entire platform and experience of news and information.

While i disagree that newsgames are any good for storytelling i think the word “contained object” is very useful. That said, i am pretty sure that consumers do not give a dime what things they do or do not enjoy online are called by experts. If i like interacting with an interavtive datavisualization than i do not care if that already is gamification or a gameful experience or not.

Chris is keen on finding answers to questions like: How do we improve commenting? How do we get more people to participate in creation and processing of news and information? How do we think differently about monetization? Basically you could break it down to one thing: How do we get people to spent their precious time on the web with our products (news as a product!) and how do we get them to come back, like us, tell their friends about us or even engage or pay for our news-product on the web. That can be achieved if we give them something that is fun, something that provides extra value. Plain news the way they are now are not very valuable. You get them for free nearly everywhere.

Total gamification will not solve any problems. Adding badges or casual games will not solve any problems. But experimentation with new forms of telling stories, explaining systems or implementing customized interaction can help us to find ways out of the news dilemma. This will not be a one-way thing. There will be many many different ways how to interact with many many different communities. Things do not get simpler. But things definitely get more interesting in the next years. Maybe things will be more fun as well. Games in the end are somewhat always supposed to be fun. However you define fun ;)

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It’s the System, Stupid!

Sometimes an article or a post stands out of the crowd. I was very pleased to read “Newsrewired: Why news needs game mechanics and journalists should stop telling stories“. Why? Because there are actually people out there doing what i am mostly just talking about. The British are way ahead – again. I am pretty sure that most german journalists do not have a clue what a job description like lead interactive technologist could mean at all. Whatever.

Apart from that i was very pleased to hear Philip Trippenbach differentiate between Story and System. Many journalists still seem to cling to the concept of stories even when there is no story to tell. Maybe it is a similar problem like the still not very much perceived difference between product- and process-journalism.

Core point + game mechanics

I am more and more convinced right now that games are not so very much suited to tell stories most of the time because people prefer their stories to be linear. But the idea of games generating a social experience with an understanding of systems makes more and more sense to me. The only problem: You need to identify the core contentual point and then you need to add useful game mechanics – why not try these.

That does not sound like a simple job to me. Maybe someone comes up with a proper solution for the definite Wikileaks-Game pretty soon. Everything i have seen so far does not really deserve the tag Newsgame. Okay, just one last quote by Mr. Trippenbach:  The best way to learn how a system works is by interacting with it, by playing with it. Agreed.

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You just can´t win with that newsgame stuff

Nora Pauls says that – just at around 2:54+x minutes. She is director of the Institute for New Media Studies at the University of Minnesota. She is the recipient of a 2007 Knight News Challenge grant to create a toolset for news simulation games. She has done “some eyetracking and usability research on different games that have been created for news organizations.” It is 2008. She speaks at the J-Lab’s “Playing the News” workshop prior to the 2008 Online News Association Convention. Read More

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Header Social Games
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A Social News Game


Social Gaming is hot! You can read stuff like that on dodgy marketing blogs. In fact. They are right. The current global audience of social games has surpased 500 mio. monthly active users according to ScreenDigest (2010). Consumer spending on social games rose from 76 mio. US$ in 2008 to 639 mio. US$ in 2009 and is expected to grow to 1,5 billion US$ in 2014.

Read More

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War, children, it’s just a shot away

This is a commercial Trailer for the new EA game ‘Medal of Honor‘. There has been some controversial about the opportunity to play Taliban fighters in the Multiplayer Option. EA has deleted that option. I am not going to debate that. It was forseeable. It was good advertising. And of course it is wrong to censor the game because of dubious ethical reasons.

About one year ago, Konami stopped publishing the game ‘Six Days in Fallujah‘ – Wikipedia-citation: The premise of the game has been the subject of controversy; with questions raised as to its appropriateness, especially given the fact that the true event the game is based upon was so recent.

Is it a good idea to mix Documentary and Games? Majed Athab discusses the topic with a  personal approach in Vol.1 of the brilliant Kill Screen Magazine. Athab is a Gamer and he was there. In Fallujah. In Spring 2002. Far more than six days. He had family there: I don´t know which is worse: the fact that absurdity is given a free pass and even glorified, or the fact that realism has become taboo.

One Realism versus the Other

Nicholson Baker recently wrote in The New Yorker that Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 might be “truer, realer than almost all war movies.” At least it is going to be in 3-D. But does that make the ‘Game’ more ‘real’?

Chris Suellentrop writes about ‘War Games’ in the New York Times (8 September 2010) – Medal of Honor does not aspire to capture the war in Afghanistan in a documentary sense, but like other shooters, it creates a visceral sensation of combat. In essence, it forgoes one kind of realism while embracing another. Are video games like this mere frivolities that dishonor the real soldiers who have fought in the wars depicted — as critics, including military families, have recently charged? Or does their popularity indicate that they are successfully conveying an experience of war to audiences in a way that is at least as effective and affecting as the war stories told in literature or film?

Personal Indisposition

The debate has only just began. Hopefully it will be held without unnecessary fearmongering and without Ignorance.

I have not been to a place where an actual war or conflict is taking place. I have seen a lot of documentaries, read a lot of books and articles and i have spoken to soldiers who have been to Afghanistan – but i have never felt so bad and lonely like when i spent hours during the nighttime trying to follow the bunch of fellow soldiers through the snowy afghan mountains in the new Medal of Honor.

Losing sight, being alone, creeping around in the dark made me feel quesy. I am not sure if it was out of the right motives. But i am pretty sure, that the gaming experience added another layer of knowledge to my humble attempt to somewhat understand conflict in the age of asymmetrical warfare.

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Jump They Say

Is it okay to play a game about 911? Is it okay to make a game about 911? I came across the 2003 project 9-11 Survivor by accident. I was watching a lecture that Nonny de la Peña gave at the USC Annenberg School of Communications and Journalism on YouTube. She talked about the 9-11 game that “was created as an art-class project by three students at the University of California, San Diego, John Brennan, Mike Caloud and Jeff Cole. They said their goal was to reinterpret a historic moment by transplanting it to the medium with which they were most familiar: computer games.” (NYT) Does someone know if it is still somewhere out there on the Internet?

Strange piece of work

Anyhow, i was thrilled while looking at the small Screenshots. For me this has got nothing to do with Sensationlism but can be understood as an artistic way of coping with the incident. I remember an exhibition somewhere with a looped Video of the planes coming closer to the World Trade Center.

The Video was a cartoon and every time the planes nearly touched the Towers something different and unexpected happened. The Towers just moved to the right or moved to the left. The Towers were elastic and catapulted the planes away. It was a very strong piece of work. It is burned-in my memories as a despaired try to somewhat cope with the the unique incident. Does anyone by any chance know that piece of work and the artist who did it?

The old man

People turn to games for coping with complex situations. One of my strongest memories about 911 is an old man whom i saw on some german tv station days after September 11th. He easfully said that one had to have some sort of respect for the Terrorists because they had managed to hit the Towers. The man continued explaining, that he had spent hours and hours trying to hit the World Trade Center with a plane back at home playing a flight simulator. He said that he did not manage to make it. A bizarre moment for me at that time. But quite comprehensible if you think about it for a minute.

Update

Reading an article about Jens Stober´s 1378km on the gamescenes blog i came across two further examples of games, that also have been accused of sensationalism and cruelty against the victims: Waco Resurrection (2004) by Eddo Stern, Peter Brinson and Brody Condon, a videogame about the siege of David Koresh’s ranch in Texas and Super Columbine Massacre RPG by Danny Ledonne about the Columbine High School massacre which took place in 1999.

Konrad Adenauer thinking hard about Newsgames
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The Very Beginning

Keine Experimente. No Experiments. That was the election campaign slogan of the CDU, the German Christian Democrats in 1957. They did very well with that slogan, which became a familiar quotation ever after. Most of the time used with an ironic undertone.

Teichoscopy versus Literacy

If you have a closer look at the situation of the Media in general and Journalism in particular  you get the Impression that the general approach – well at least in Germany – is just like that. Keine Experimente.

The latest german example is the Berlin Wall Video Game ‘1378 (km). Instead of embracing new immersive ways of history examination the german media bashed the whole project with a strange mixture of misunderstanding and eyebrow raising highculture talk. Andreas Rosenfelder (FAZ) obviously saw the necessity to explain the ancient greek concept of Teichoscopy instead of trying to understand the work of Jens Stober. I liked Bobby Schweizer´s take on it:

Audiences do not have the videogame literacy needed to understand these works and producers do not have the tools to adequately demonstrate their importance. While claims have been made about the lack or presence of maturity in videogames as a medium, the fundamental issue in play with 1378(km) is not related to the game industry, but rather to journalism as a profession

Understanding our world

This blog is supposed to be a place to discuss the relatively new concept of Newsgames. I am not sure who came up with that exact term. Maybe it was Gonzalo Frasca – at least you find his page about Newsgaming when you look around. It has been looking very deserted for quite some time now. But you can find some sort of definition there:

Newsgaming is a word we coined for describing a genre that is currently emerging: videogames based on news events. Traditionally, videogames have focused on fantasy rather than reality, but we believe that they can be a great tool for better understanding our world. Since newsgaming is so new, it has to find a voice of its own. Therefore, most of our games will be in part experimental.

So, here we are. Experimental. Let´s get rid of the ‘No’ in front of the Experiments. Or in german: Experimente, Ja! BTW: Please excuse my poor language skills. I am not a native speaker and i will  never ever learn the rules concerning the usage of capital letters.