The winner of this weekend’s news games hackathon hosted by journalist/developer group Hacks/Hackers at CUNY’s journalism school this weekend was created by a professional newsroom programmer, Associated Press developer Julian Burgess. In Whose Headline, players match headlines to their publications. It has the simple, sticky satisfaction of solitaire, but you gain a top-level sense of what’s going on in the world at the same time. Is “DRUGGY DAUGHTER BOOMERANGS WHITNEY” from The National Enquirer, the New Yorker or The Onion? “Attorney generals slam ‘binge-in-a-can’ drink”–The New York Daily News, Forbes or The Guardian?
Unfortunately, not all the apps were really news games. Context, which also got a prize, allows readers to comment and annotate articles inline. Great, but where’s the fun in that? “A newsgame is an application of journalism in videogame form,” according to the Newsgames project at Georgia Tech.
The problem is, news games are difficult and rare; there are not many good examples of them. Maybe it’s because using game mechanics as a gimmick to attract readers feels un-journalistic in some way. “I’m not comfortable journalistically with badges, rewards, basically tricks, to drive traffic,” video game journalist Heather Chaplain said during a panel at the event.
Co-organizer Daniel Bachhuber said he wasn’t disappointed in the lack of truly gamesy news games, but he wishes they’d used a word other than “hackathon” to describe the event. “I think it came together pretty well,” he said. “Reinventing how news is consumed doesn’t happen in a day. I also think that we need a better word… hackathons have a technology focus, and I think non-developers are turned off.