The Long Shelf Life for News Games

    by Gail Robinson
    April 8, 2008

    People who run news sites can be resistant to encouraging the developing games and other interactive feature. Perhaps it’s that “game” sounds too playful, although given that most newspaper feature comics, crosswords and Sudoko, to say nothing of the latest celebrity photos and gossip, it’s hard to see why. The interactivity may make some editors nervous as well as pairing a light approach — a game — with a serious issue such as the deaths in Darfur, hurricanes or legislative redistricting.

    The amount of staff time and resources — technical experts, designers, writers, editors— that go into a game can prove daunting, particularly in an era when all news organizations are looking to cut corners.

    These issues were discussed at a meeting earlier this year of the Committee of Concerned Journalists earlier this year. Much of the discussion revolved around how to convince newsrooms and news site managers to invest in games.


    One clear argument: Games, if done properly, can have a long shelf life. At the session, Don Wittekind, now at the University of North Carolina, discussed a game he helped create while at the Sun-Sentinel about how hurricanes form. The science has not changed — so the game holds up. And years after it was launched, people still get a sense of the tension and tedium of working airport security from MSNBC’s baggage screening game. (For a description, link here, though the link to MSNBC seems to be down).

    Even seemingly ephemeral issues can acquire legs — if the presentation is inventive enough. Gotham Gazette’s Plan Your Future Park game appeared about four years ago. It remains on our site, as an interactive exercise in what kinds of tradeoffs go into parks (dog runs vs. kid runs, say). This year the city of San Jose linked to it on their site. In the last five months, about 6,700 people have played this four-year-old game, adding up to more hits than most of our new features.

    Obviously some worthwhile games — ones involving elections, say — don’t have this kind of longevity. But many others focusing on government process (the topic of Gotham Gazette’s next game), science, history and eternal human truths (some people go to parks for peace; others to play ball) can keep attracting interest and readers for years to come.

    Tagged: msnbc news games readership shelf life sun sentinel

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