Much of the discussion about online games focuses on the technical issues, and that’s not surprising since the technical aspects make a game a game or a simulation and not a conventional story. But as Gotham Gazette continues its efforts to create interactive features to involve and educate New Yorkers on key policy issues, we have discovered that the reporting piece can be far more complicated than we originally imagined.
Games, at least those that entail budget numbers, carbon emissions or other figures, require a level of precision most stories simply do not. This is not to say that reporters are sloppy. But in doing a story involving numbers, we can explain differences in a narrative. Who among us who has covered demographic data has not resorted to such phrases as “statistics are available only for the entire metropolitan area,” or “numbers are not available for individual community school districts.”
When only a statewide figure on recidivism rates, say, exists, we use it, noting perhaps that New York City accounts for such and such a percentage of New York State prisoners. As an example a recent prominent graphic in the New York Times on voting patterns among different groups since 1980 noted that figures for Asian Americans only dated back the 1992 and left a blank space.
Many types of games simply will not allow for that. If a game asks players to balance the budget, the revenues and expenditures they can add and subtract must all be for the same jurisdiction over the same period of time. If one number is for the county and the other for a city, the game becomes confusing and even meaningless.
Right now, we are looking to create a game on electricity use. Ample data exists but the difficulty comes in comparing it. The city projects its use looking at 2030 as an end date; the state uses 2015. The city only considers the five boroughs; the state looks at the entire state and the local electric utility, Con Ed, includes New York City and some suburban counties. Some data is pegged to peak use, others to total yearly consumption. And so on.
Other than hiring a professional numbers cruncher (a suggestion we’ve actually received), any other ideas? How have other games dealt with this? And a word of advice to those creating games: Don’t forget the reporting.