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Video games that let you play with your news

Peace talks, Sully’s landing, even the economy spawn a buzzy genre of games.

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The other big category of news games includes more informative, journalistic titles, such as how to manage finances in a recession to running a campaign office during the 2008 election. Bogost, whose company, Persuasive Games, has developed such games for CNN, MTV, and The New York Times, is still working on a term for this type.

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The trend of using news games hasn’t taken off with many news outlets, says Eric Newton, vice president for the Knight Foundation Journalism Program. But they’ve grown so popular with gamers that it’s just a matter of time, he says.

“There hasn’t been a breakthrough in terms of a digital news game the way that the crossword puzzle was a breakthrough for the daily newspaper 100 years ago,” he says. “That hasn’t happened yet, but it will.”

The Knight Foundation, Mr. Newton says, sees news games as possible moneymakers for struggling journalism organizations – a way to reconnect with their audiences as more Americans play video games in their free time.

To embrace this notion, last month the Knight Foundation gave out its first award for the best news game. The honor went to Impact Games, in Pittsburgh, Pa., for its series of games titled “Play the News.” Since 2006, the company has released 127 free games where players could learn about anything from the O.J. Simpson trial to the 2008 debates between vice presidential candidates. As the games grew more popular, CEO Eric Brown hoped that a news organization would buy the series. No luck so far, he says.

One of Impact’s more successful games, “Peacemaker,” a $19.95 title based on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, has been sold in 70 countries, according to Mr. Brown. The game places players in one of two roles – either as the Palestinian president or Israeli prime minister – and asks them to make decisions that lead to different outcomes using information and images from news organizations.

Games such as “Peacemaker” fall into the larger genre of “serious games,” which revolve around teachable moments, but not necessarily the news.

Serious games have been “around for half a century,” says Suzanne Seggerman, president and cofounder of Games for Change, a nonprofit organization that advocates games that promote social change. Ms. Seggerman notes that the military has used serious games to train soldiers for decades.