Covering Politics in Cyberspace

April 19, 2007

Using ‘Serious Games’ to Engage Users

Michael Skoler of America Public Media’s Center for Innovation in Journalism (and director of APM’s Public Insight Network) showed us how Minnesota Public Radio incorporates serious games to further engage listeners and site users.

Skoler exhibited 2006 Select a Candidate, Minnesota Fantasy Legislature (see “commissioner” Bob Collins’ league notes), and The Real Agenda.

So what are “serious games” and how can they function as tools of engagement for news/political Web sites?

Some think these “serious” or “ubiquitous” games will be fundamental to harnessing collective intelligence. A lofty goal, but one that could essentially lead to more utopian, user-friendly and maintenance-free forums on a Web site or portal.

“The future of collective play: Fostering collaboration, network literacy and massively multiplayer problem-solving through alternate-reality games,” was the title of Institute for the Future researcher Jane McGonigal‘s keynote at a recent Serious Games Summit. McGonigal argues that collaborative, puzzle-like games will become integral to humans’ tendency to imagine and strive for a “best-case scenario future.” Further analysis of McGonigal’s keynote can be found here and here.

A great resource for game ideas, analysis and conception is at the Serious Games network on Ning. Ning, co-created by former Netscape co-founder Marc Andreesen, is a portal that enables any casual Web user to create their own social network (see my as-yet-undeveloped, Thelonious Monk-inspired rhythm-a-ning). For even more on serious games, see the CALT encyclopedia.

You may have heard of Cruel 2 B Kind, the latest ubiquitous gaming craze taking over the world. The name of the C2BK game is “benevolent assassination,” an extension of McGonigal’s theory that all Internet users share a desire for “a life more worth living.” Click here to watch the game in action or find out for yourself Saturday in Santa Monica.

Another example of serious games seriously at work was the USC Center on Public Diplomacy‘s Reinventing Public Diplomacy Through Games Competition. This contest attracted submissions from around the world dealing with topics ranging from interactive after-school programs to discussing international water issues to simulating the Israel-Palestine conflict. Even the awards ceremony was simulcast in Second Life. I encourage you to read more about the project and the winners here.


Its been this way since ages. Many brilliant ideas just remain ideas. Serious games can not only engage users but also offer to educate and train people. I was in a meeting recently addressing concerns about the increasing railway accidents in third world countries. Besides poor infrastructure, these government run organizations lack process & capital to train employees for first hand experience in cases of emergencies. The most brilliant suggestion came from a girl in her mid twenties where she suggested the use of cheap and easy to use + fun to play with simulators for rail signal and line operators so they don’t end up causing those massive train accidents in countries like India.

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This blog was written by speakers, fellows, and student reporters who attended the Knight Digital Media Center Election '08: Covering Politics in Cyberspace seminar.

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