Gamification, when modern journalism meets games

In its struggle to survive, journalism had no choice but embracing digital media. The problem is that online journalism, most of the time, only comes down to a translation of existing practices to the web. But you do not write a story for print newspapers as you write it for the web. What is at stake with the Internet is to seduce young people, who do not read print versions and who tend to read less and less newspapers, even online. In that case, which incentive could lead people to renew with information and journalism? Games can persuade, inform, influence, they can make information interactive, recreate historical events, build a community and make people feel involved. Games could be useful tools for journalists to contribute to civic life by amplifying the “how” instead of the “who”. They offer models of how the world works and how it might be improved. What if journalism of the future was not meant to be read but played?

– What is gamification?

Gamification sounds like the latest trend in marketing. But it’s not, or not entirely. According to interactive firm iStrategiesLab’s CEO Peter Corbett, gamification aims at « taking the rules of games – whether it’s leveling, prizes or achievements – and the psychology of playing games and applying it to something that doesn’t have that dynamic ». The game mechanics are thus applied to all sorts of non-game experiences. And the concept is not new. Companies have been using games in non-games context for a long time. Supermarkets, airlines companies or even hotels have loyalty programs, which are real incentives for people to buy their products. The more you spend, the more points and rewards you get.

Foursquare, a social media application is the embodiment of gamification: users can “check in” at their current location using geolocation software and they are rewarded with points for each check-in. If they frequent certain type of places a lot (such as restaurants, museums, bars…) they earn badges (the Super-user badge, for instance, is earned after checking 30 times in a month). Users compete against their friends, and the more intensive “players” can lead on the leaderboard. Intensive users can also get discounts if they check in at the same place many times, which obviously incent them to play.

Gamification suggests features such as points, levels, leaderboards, rewards, challenges etc. They are game mechanics widely used within videogames. As we live in a time where majority of people play games or are, at least, game-attuned, these kinds of features have become familiar. Since they are accustomed, games are an easy way to captivate and attract them in something they normally would not be engaged in. It works exactly the same way with news.

– Gamification applied to the news

Applied to the news, games make the information more involving. By playing games, people develop a deeper sense of the underlying themes of a story. People can learn through experimenting and that’s why we can “gamify” certain news and make them engaging enough so people will pay attention to them and stay focused on them for a longer period of time.

Gamification can be applied to news organizations using different methods. First, users can be rewarded for the time spent on a website or on an application, they can earn credits to access the archives or even badges and thus improve their visibility on the website. When organizations track their readers’ success, they provide a sense of progress. It motivates readers to continue reading, commenting or performing whatever actions on the site that will contribute to their overall progress.

Google recently launched the same “rewarding badges”, but only for its US browser. People can easily become curators, and they can identify what topics they are more interested in by reading their statistics of what they read the most, or how much time they spend on articles. These statistics are also useful to Google who can shape his offers to the user’s needs. On some websites, the “share” button allows the reader to incite his friends to read an article by sharing it on social medias.

– Newsgames

Newsgames is a word used to describe a genre that is currently emerging: videogames based on new events.

In 2011, the most shared and « liked » news story on Facebook was « The world at seven billion », an interactive game created by BBC news. As population reached the seven billion peak at the end of 2011, the BBC had this idea to incent readers to get interested in the story by offering them to know which number they were on the scale of the seven billion human beings. This game was a hit and the related papers counted many more views than the rest of the website.

Games are not just an amusement, they can be stimulations to analyze, debate and comment major news. That’s why several medias started creating their own games to tell stories. They range from very serious to more trivial topics.

When 33 Chilean miners were trapped underground, every media around the world relayed the story. In “Juego Los 33”, created by Root 22, the Internet user has a delicate mission to accomplish. He has to rescue each miner and thus get to understand the lengthy rescue progress.

For the French’s left presidential primary, the online newspaper LeMonde.fr created a virtual game where users could choose a candidate and try everything to make him win : choosing carefully your allies, organizing a strong strategy and so on. We can find many more examples on the Internet of videogames created by medias to raise people attention.

Videogames do not offer a panacea for the ills of contemporary news organizations but they appear to be a good method to enhance a reader’s understanding of the complexity of the issues involved. Within the next decade, it is likely to see gamification reshaping the way we experience the web, to the same degree that social media and networks redefined the web last decade. Yet, no game will be as useful as a long and accurate article written by a journalist who has a deep knowledge of the subject. Too bad, because we would have loved to play to “bail out Europe 2”.

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Tuition fees in the US : the grapes of wrath

As the Occupy Wall Street protests have spread to many cities in the United States, they have also taken roots at US universities, where students set up their own tent cities. Their concern: the rising costs of tuition and their heavy student’s debts. This issues brought out by worried students are directly connected to the larger issues being raised by the Occupy protests against economic inequality.

Young people everywhere are underemployed and struggling to repay debt. New York university professor Andrew Ross ran an open forum entitled « Is student debt a form of indenture ? » and explained that student debt in the United States has topped one trillion, which is more than any other kind of consumer debt in the country. There is a real student lending industry in the United States that profits from student loans, especially defaults because they involve lucrative collector’s fees, interests and penalties. This, added to a planned tuition increase, triggered the wrath of many students around the country. They decided to create their own occupy movement.

College tuition fees

The American higher education system is among the world’s most prestigious. But at what price? College cost a lot, even if  you can find a variety of institutions : private universities, public universities, community college and liberal arts college. None is free. In the American System, students pay for their studies, and they pay the hard price. The College Board released its annual report on the cost of college at the beginning of November. The average in-state tuition at public four-year institutions cost about $8,244 annually. And the figures jump to $14,487 per year at for-profit institutions. The top Ivy League colleges, the world’s most renowned institutions cost $50,000 per year. Even if students receive grant aids and tax-based aid, according to the Project on student debt research, students graduated in 2010 with an average of $25,250 in debt, 5 percent higher than a year before.

Student loans, a heavy burden

Various types of loans exist for students to pay their tuitions: federal loans and private loans. Generally, federal loans are not sufficient to cover the full cost of higher education. Unlike federal loans, private lenders can adjust interest rates as high as they want and they do not offer consumer protection. Indeed, in 2005, bankruptcy protection was removed from private student loans. Default is now the only option left for struggling student loan debtors. And of course, the lenders make far more money on defaulted loans. The guarantor industry, derives on average 60 percent of their gross revenues from penalties and fees attached to defaulted student loans. That’s why they lend money to students regardless of whether they are likely to actually pay it back. Students are slaved to their loans and have to pay for years after they graduated.

Stef Gray, who is pioneering Occupy Student Debt, a movement calling for reforms in the student lending industry, explains that “It’s going to be default after default, after default. And once you default, that’s a black mark on your credit report for life, because student loans cannot be discharged in bankruptcy”. Nearing one trillion dollars, the student loan debt is today the subject of thousands of student’s protest.

Occupy movements led by students blossom everywhere

A campaign called Occupy student debt was recently launched. As an offspring of the Occupy movement, current and former students, as well as professors from various universities in New York City are part of the group. They experienced, and still experience the anxiety and desperation created by debt, all the more so as the global economy is sinking and they decided to react about it. They launched a website, where students and graduates can post pictures of themselves with a piece of paper, on which is written the amount they took out in loans and the amount they still owe. On November 21, the group started an online pledge. They’re seeking one million signatures of people who will refuse to pay their loans until reforms are made to the lending industry. What are the reforms they are calling for? Federally funded tuition-free tertiary public education, but also interest-free private loans, a requirement that for-profit and private universities open their financial books and the writing-off of all the current student debt.

Campuses haven’t been immune to the Occupy Wall Street movement that spread all around the country. Occupy Colleges, an offshoot of the movement has thus sprung up at over 100 schools nationwide. Theirs concerns are the rising costs of tuition as well as the insurmountable student debt. They want equality in higher education and they claim it.The movement is attracting young people who are having trouble paying back their student loans, while struggling to make ends meet.

Their protest might not be useless since at the end of October, President Obama announced new programs to ease the student loan burden for low-income graduates. Some efforts will be made to keep interest rates fixed, so that students do not have surprises down the road to repayment. The borrowers will have the option to enroll in debt forgiveness programs in exchange for spending part of their careers in the public service. He added a limit to the monthly payments, that won’t exceed 10% of the borrower’s income and debt will now be forgiven after 20 years of payments.