Engaging Visitors With ‘Serious Games’

cross-posted at the Knight New Media blog

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 a more utopian, user-policed and controlled message boards and 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. McGoningal 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). See also, 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” (read more on this here. 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.

Blogging for Knight Center on Politics 2.0

I’m blogging for the rest of the week for the Knight Foundation from their Politics & Cyberspace conference. It’s been excellent so far, all of the posts are here — my post on the keynote is copied below. On the right, John Amato of CrooksandLiars with James Joyner of Outside the Beltway.

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“You know how they say we only use 10 percent of our brains? I think we only use 10 percent of our hearts.” — Owen Wilson in Wedding Crashers.

Campaigns are only using 10 percent of the Internet, said political scientist Michael Cornfield, former director of research for the GW & Pew-backed Democracy Online Project (now VP of ElectionMall), in his opening keynote, “Politics and the Internet: What Do We Really Know?”

The public and in some ways the press are now trained to expect the marriage of Web 2.0 and politics to produce breakthrough discoveries or disseminate ill-conceived media that can make or break political campaigns. But as Cornfield stressed, George Allen’s 2006 “macaca” moment was simply the nadir of an already disintegrating campaign.

“Tech innovation brought into the marketplace is not significant on its own,” said Cornfield. While 2006 was YouTube’s year, it didn’t make or break these races, the campaigns and candidates did. Similarly, the first televised presidential debate — Nixon v. JFK in 1960 — did not necessarily produce a sudden sea change in which voters went purely on looks as much as the candidates themselves reacted to their performances.

Television remains the mass medium of choice among Americans, although the Internet is gaining in popularity, especially among the younger set. But it was not an Internet campaign that definitively changed the tone of the media and in turn the momentum of the 2004 election. The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth was a donor-funded political group that, in the final weeks of the campaign, created TV and radio ads disparaging John F. Kerry’s Vietnam service and spread rumors — most of which, if not all, have only been verified as false — insinuating that, among other things, he acted unethically on the battlefield during the incident for which he was awarded a purple star.

Who exactly were the donors and private interests behind the Swift Boat Fund and how long had they been planning it?

Cornfield could not have possibly overstated the importance of micro-analysis of campaign usage of media and new tech and of profiling big donors and supporters. As the public’s use and comfort level with the Internet as a socially and politically reverent medium continues to grow, so will the number — and the power — of individual campaign donors. Thanks to the resources made available by the FEC and OpenSecrets, major donors can be identified and their campaign contributions, monetary and otherwise can often be tracked. Cornfield recommended journalists band together and create forums in which they listen to — and interview — groups of donors. It would be interesting to see how this could be effective on both sides of the political aisle — we’ll see if any donor profiles come out of large-scale events like YearlyKos in Chicago in August or even the GOP debate May 3rd at the Reagan Library.

McCain and Giuliani may have been early frontrunners to be the GOP candidate, but, now, where did all of Romney’s millions come from?

The general public will continue to dissect the candidates, their histories and intentions, but who will follow the money to the source? Are campaign donors the new kingmakers as Cornfield suggests?

Protesting Students Threatened with Suspensions

As if it’s not fascist enough that USC (where I’m at grad school) has an actual “free speech zone,” which would imply that such freedoms are not ensured anywhere else on campus, yesterday a small group protesting the schools use of sweatshop labor for their products was given 10 minutes to disperse, or else:

The sit-in began about 11 a.m. and ended after the students were handed personally addressed letters that said, “I want to inform you that you have been placed on interim suspension from USC. ” The letters outlined eight charges of misconduct.

The three-page letters, signed by Denzil J. Suite, assistant vice president for student affairs, said that “effective 5 p.m. on April 10, 2007, you may not return to the University of Southern California.” It also added that “if you reside in university-owned housing, you must vacate your residence by 9 a.m. on April 11.”

They even CALLED the protesters parents! Unbelievable. Shame, shame, SC. Go here to support the efforts of SCALE.

I DO Get Out Sometimes

manhattan at edison los angeles andy sternbergWent speed-barhopping all o’er the Eastsiiide on Saturday with Caroline who blogs about all the good places in LA at Caroline on Crack but wanted some help on this side of town.

I’d tell you all about it, but, naturally, she’s already got a great post (and some great photos). I’ll provide the map below.

Thanks for the great service at Shortstop, Edison, The Hive Gallery, Cha Cha, Hard Times… Hyperion Tavern & Redwood – not so much…

Click on for the map… Continue reading “I DO Get Out Sometimes”