Serious Media for Good: Games & Journalism Part I

BY Dan Norton
I recently attended a lovely and amazing conference called the ivoh summit. It blew my mind, and I met a ton of amazing people. I met a lot of incredible writers and journalists, and I was immediately impressed by two things:

  • I forgot how much I enjoy the company of writers
  • There are lots of ways to do a profound amount of good by making media

This got me thinking about things that journalism and games have in common, and the things they don’t have in common. I’ve done a lot of thinking about games vs. books, games vs. movies, games vs. actually doing things. Weighing the structure and affordances of news against games is honestly something that hadn’t occurred to me.

One of the things that serious games and journalism have in common is that they are both media made for a purpose. They both want you to consume them and come out the other side changed in some way. It occurred to me that games can learn a ton from the generations of culture and expertise behind professional journalism.

In terms of generating that change, I think games and journalism have a notable contrast. Games double down on the intrinsic interest of the player (“this will be fun!”), while journalism appeals to the extrinsic interests of the reader (“This is something I want to know about!”). Now of course, news articles with serious goals still strive to be entertaining, and learning games still hope that player’s care about the topics before they begin play. I think it’s fair to say that news media expects someone to read their article because it’s about something important, and that games media expects someone to play their game because it’s fun.

Journalism exists to inform someone about something they didn’t know. Journalists accordingly write about things that are, and under the assumption that you should know about those things. Journalism focused on making impact and change often looks at the type of things that demand action through their very existence- and can leverage reality with tools like inspiration, community, outrage, empathy, etc.

Journalism relies on the extrinsic, in that sense- they expect/insist you care about the world around you. And of course, you should.

Games endeavor to present information about themselves, under the premise that the act of thinking about them is enjoyable and worth doing. Mechanics, identity, reward structures...all of the components of games that make them great are internal to the experience. Games can leverage tools like accomplishment, frustration, empowerment, etc.

So games rely on the intrinsic- they expect you to care about your own experience, and promise to lay out a challenge worth spending your time and effort on in the name of being a thinking, learning human being. And of course, you should.

In the next installment, I’ll talk more about the intrinsic aspect of games, and point out the strengths and weaknesses that stem from those attributes. More soon!

Click here to read Serious Games for Good: Games & Journalism Part 2!