the transition to digital journalism
Games and Immersive Environments
Another effective way of increasing participation in and time spent at an online news site is adding news-related games people can play or immersive virtual worlds people can explore.
Games by definition are more engaging for people, and well designed games can lead people to spend hours of their time playing them online. Games are particularly popular with young people, an age group many news organizations are struggling to attract as readers or viewers.
On the general popularity of video games, see the Entertainment Software Association's Industry Facts section of its website.
Many news organizations have experimented with developing games for their websites.
One early news game was Waterfront Renaissance created in 2001 by the Everett Herald newspaper in Washington (the link is to a version of the game preserved by the Internet Archive). The city of Everett at the time was planning to redevelop its waterfront, and the game invited people to "develop your own vision for our waterfront areas" by placing on a map of the waterfront area icons for different features, such as an amphitheater, park areas, a horse arena, a golf course, etc.
Another early classic news game was MSNBC.com's baggage screening game that showed people the challenge of trying to scan baggage at airport security checkpoints. The game, produced in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, won the Online News Association award for most creative use of the medium in 2002.
The Gotham Gazette has developed numerous online games on public policy issues.
Another common news game was about balancing the budgets of various governments. The New York Times in 2010 created a Budget Puzzle: You Fix the Budget that people could play with to reduce the federal budget deficit.
Ian Bogost, game designer and professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology, is developing the Cartoonist, a tool for quickly generating news video games. He also wrote Newsgames: Journalism at Play, a book on games created by news organizations.
See also the research done by Nora Paul and Kathleen Hansen at the University of Minnesota on the effectiveness of online news games.
For more examples of online games developed by news organizations, see this list.
Games can be kept very simple and thus require little development time, and still be very popular. See for example the Guess Where SF game people created on Flickr, in which photos are posted and people are asked to try to identify them.
The Berkeleyside local news blog regularly posts a Where in Berkeley? feature inviting people to ID the place depicted in a photo. Another California local news blog, claycord.com, asked people to help identify a wild bird, prompting 87 responses.
Other examples of very popular simple games created by news organizations include:
- How Y’all, Youse and You Guys Talk - New York Times, December 2013. A quiz that tries to determine what region of the United States you're from base on a series of questions about your dialect.
- How Much Time Have You Wasted on Facebook? - Time magazine, January 2014
Other games are much more complex and create immersive, virtual worlds people can explore together online.
At the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism we developed Remembering 7th Street, an online virtual world and video game that re-created Oakland's 7th Street blues and jazz club scene from the 1940s and 1950s so people could experience this important part of the city's cultural heritage.
Readings and Resources
- Moments of innovation - Immersion - a history of immersive storytelling produced by the IDFA Doclab at MIT
- Online news games are fun (and informative!) - Mark Luckie, 10,000 Words, 5/7/2008
- News-Focused Game Playing: Is It a Good Way to Engage People in an Issue? - Nora Paul and Kathleen A. Hansen, Nieman Reports, Summer 2010
- How Immersive Journalism, Games Can Increase Engagement - MediaShift, 7/7/2010
- Newsgames: Journalism at Play - Ian Bogost, 10/1/2010. A book about games developed by news media.
- To Spur Traffic at News Sites, Just Travoltify - New York Times, 3/5/2014. Article about how simple quizzes and interactives can create huge increases in traffic to news websites.