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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Interest in serious games has grown over the past five years, notes Ethan Watrall, associate professor in the department of telecommunications, information studies, and media at Michigan State University in East Lansing. Mr. Watrall’s school even offers a master’s degree program for serious game design, where students have developed games based on the life of epidemiologist John Snow and how to play music on the steel pan.Skip to next paragraph
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News games, Seggerman says, “support the democratic process by revealing truths ... or allowing us to understand a current event better.”
Seggerman’s site, GamesForChange, lists a few news games that try to promote social change. Among them is “September 12, a Toy World,” a news game developed by Gonzalo Frasca to educate people about the effects of terrorism and the effort to quash it. The video game, which can never be won or lost, takes place in a Middle Eastern marketplace where players must decide to either bomb terrorists and face civilian casualties or continue to face multiplying foes.
Another featured news game, “Hurricane Katrina: Tempest in Crescent City,” developed by Global Kids and Gamepill, focuses on how residents and the government coped after the 2005 storm hit. Players walk through New Orleans after the hurricane, communicating with neighbors and reporters to find a family member.
Though news games may never reach the same status as popular commercial video games such as “Grand Theft Auto” or “Halo,” Bogost says “there is an opportunity for video-game developers to see the news media as a creative, interesting outlet.”
And even small designers make a profit – most likely through the same online ads on which other websites rely.
Just look at “Sock and Awe,” the Flash game that lets players toss a shoe at the nimble President Bush.
Developer Alex Tew sold the game to the Internet company Furba for about $8,000. Since its launch, more than 94 million pixilated loafers have landed on target, according to the ad-supported website.
But even with success stories like this, “I don’t think anyone has the misconception they are going to strike it rich,” says Bogost. Blockbuster news games require the right event, the right game style, and the right appeal.
They see other value in creating news games. Besides publicity for the programming duo, the “Swinefighter” game provided comedic relief for an otherwise bad-news story, Gomila says. In fact, the goofy game attracted its largest audience in Mexico.
“It was a catastrophe in ways, but I think there’s comedy around every single event,” Gomila says. “If we just have bad news all the time, it’s not really fun.”