Andrzej Marczewski – Tips for journalists interested in gamification and news games

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Serious games help the reader better understand and engage with a human story or situation that news articles and statistics can not express. Few things can quite describe a problem like actually being (virtually) put into that situation.


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Gamification can encourage participation and engagement on news sites. A struggle journalists face now more than ever. Badges, leaderboards and community teamwork are just some of the many ways to apply gaming elements to non-game situations.


Interesting concepts but how do journalists successfully apply gamification or make a news game?


Advice from the gamification expert Andrzej Marczewski


Andrzej Marczewski, an expert and thought-leader on gamification, pointed out that journalists should first learn the difference between gamification and serious games:


Andrezj's difference between gamification and seious games
Andrzej’s visualisation of the difference between the two



He said: “I spend a lot of time splitting the definitions up. Gamification gets a bad name because people think that it is a catch all for any attempt at non-entertainment related use of games or game mechanics. Really, it is just about using game elements in non-games – not making them. Serious games are different.”



So what makes a good text adventure [Serious game]?

“Good text adventures have an interesting story. It doesn’t have to be long, but it needs to be well written.

The choices need to make sense in the context of the game, for example, puzzles should be solvable with logic and the understanding you have gained from playing the game – not surreal leaps of guess work.”



Example of a good news game to learn from:

The first game he recommended was Survive 125, produced by Live58, that places readers in India while living in extreme poverty, forced to make tough decisions between personal health, the well-being of the family and money. He said:


 “I like games like Survive 125 that put you in the position of other people. In this case a parent living in extreme poverty and the sorts of decisions they have to make.”


Money or health? Balancing the two can be tougher than you think



 As a game that places the player in a war as a civilian trying to survive, Andrzej suggested:

This War of Mine, whilst not strictly a news game, as a good example of getting that sort of tough decision making spot on.”


Trailer of This War of Mine on Gamespot – Read what they had to say here.



Is it hard to create a serious games?

“It is easy to apply game mechanics, but hard to make them fit in context. There are tools like Twine that can help a writer make a text based game that contains meaningful choices, but graphics based games can be really tough.”


For those with limited resources, tools such as QuestTwine makes it easier to create text adventures using limited coding. Making it flow with good storytelling, however, is still up to the journalist.



Examples of the good and bad applications of gamification:




“I like Waze as an example of pure gamification. It is a navigation app that uses very simple mechanics to encourage people to share updated information about traffic and the like. It has points and a leaderboard, but more importantly it has a sense of purpose. You update the road info and it helps others.”






What about the bad examples of gamification? “That is a long list. If I had to pick one it would be Google News badges. It was a good example of just throwing badges at something for no reason other than it seemed like a great idea to someone!”



Final words of wisdom

Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation plays a big role in encouraging readers.  


Extrinsic motivation is when the user does something because there is a reward such as a badge, status or points that they want. Intrinsic motivation is when the reader is encouraged to do something because they enjoy it, regardless of whether or not they will be rewarded for it.


Extrinsic motivation is seen as a short term method for encouraging engagement and while it does work, it is susceptible to becoming simple bribery.


Andrzej said the worst sin you can commit is:
Bribery, and forgetting that bribery is not a sustainable business model. For many – points and badges on websites represent a very short term engagement option.




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