When will we have a software program that makes it as easy to create a video game as iMovie makes creating a video?

That’s a question I’ve been asking myself a lot, as we prepare to launch our Remembering 7th Street video game project, something we’ve been working on for nearly three years.

We hope that our re-creation of Oakland’s old blues and jazz club scene might inspire local media companies to produce their own virtual world replications of aspects of a community’s heritage.

But to create a video game like ours would require several game programmers and a budget few local publications could afford.

There are some alternatives, such as Second Life, in which the creation of a virtual world is relatively easy. But Second Life has limitations I’ve noted before, such as difficulties creating engaging game play and having to host your virtual world on the Second Life site.

There are a lot of other companies that offer virtual worlds in which which people can create avatars, pick and furnish a virtual living space and interact with others (see, for example, Kaneva ). And for years, many popular video games have allowed “mods,” or modifications in which a player can create a new level to a game or a new version of it.

But none of these comes close to allowing a layman to create from scratch a rich virtual environment with complex game play.

Two other Knight News Challenge Grant recipients – the Gotham Gazette and the University of Minnesota – also have projects to produce video games for news sites, and they’ve commented on this blog about some of the challenges they’ve faced (see especially this post by Fabio Berzaghi, who makes a point similar to mine).

If anyone knows of other people or companies experimenting in this area, I’d love to hear about them.