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"BoingBoing Censored" - The Game (!?!)

bbcensored.pngGood googly-moogly. Just as it seemed to be settling down, the Internet drama about Xeni at BoingBoing "unpublishing" (a seemingly Orwellian term that's actually a MovableType command) posts talking about Violet Blue has taken a surreal turn. A site called "Impact Games" has offered up a project called "Play the News," and the latest news game subject is the Blue-BoingBoing-Bust-Up.

[Required disclaimers: I'm friends with everyone involved, and wish to remain so. BoingBoing has a right to do what it wants with its material, but in my opinion this was handled very poorly. Although the site editors argue persuasively that they each have their own interests, Cory's passions about copyright and transparency have come to define the site, and the manner in which the articles were unpublished and -- more importantly -- the removal of comments and questions when the whole thing became known ran counter to that BoingBoing image. However, I don't think any of this was done with malice, and it's clear that People Have Learned A Lesson. Moving on.]

"BoingBoing Censored" is actually pretty minimal -- frankly, it barely qualifies as a game. I find it interesting not because of what it is, but because of what it represents: the relatively fast turnaround of narrative into interaction. This has been, for less than a week, a story that a particular set of online communities followed; suddenly, it's something that people could play, too.

If it's done well, a news game can provide useful insights into the choices and dilemmas involved in the stories. This game is not done well, particularly, but I could easily imagine how a subsequent version might be more compelling. If the site and the games it produces evolve into something more complex, this could be quite big.

We need to remember, though, that games are not neutral. Take language -- by calling this game "BoingBoing Censored," Play the News takes a position on the story. Even a change as bland as (for example) "BoingBoing Edits" has a very different feel. And what's not there can be as important as the elements that are. What choices are you not given? What plays aren't available?

Games aren't objective. They're political, whether or not they're obviously about politics.

I've observed before that games are moving into new narrative and social spaces, and this simply continues that trend. "BoingBoing Censored" is worth noting simply for the speed with which it appeared. But its embrace of a seemingly minor personal and sub-cultural story should make us pay even more attention: what might we be doing with our own online lives that might end up as somebody's news game?


Full disclosure- I am one of ImpactGames creators. Thanks for the feedback / mention.

A few thoughts:

* I love criticism and feedback, especially when it is meaningful and constructive, so when we can learn from it. Your post misses on that. Our game is not done well- why? what would you like to see? granted that our games are published on a daily basis (it's not going to be the next GTA).

* Isolating one news game that we create seems to miss the whole point of PtN. The "game" is not playing one item for 5-10 minutes, but playing our news games over time similarly to Fantasy League. And this particular game is not over, the result is going to be announced when a development happens in reality.

* "Games are not objective". Surprise, surprise :) Is TV News objective? Newspapers? Blogs? Media, whatever form it takes, is subject to editing and manipulation. In fact, I would argue that interactivity allows more perspectives to be shown...


Thanks, Asi. You're right -- I should have offered more detail with my criticisms & comments.

The version that I saw of BBCensored allowed me only to "play" as the editors, and the play amounted to two polling questions: what I think they should do, and what I think they will do. I saw references to possibly being able to play as other stakeholders, but such an option never appeared for me.

There were no consequences to the questions/options, other than "we'll tell you at some point in the future how right you were or weren't." I was expecting, at the very least, to see some kind of follow-on question arising from the expected results of having taken whichever action. I was hoping, when I saw the format, that what would happen was that answering one stakeholder's questions would change the options available to subsequent stakeholders.

I'll accept that the game should be seen in context of the larger Play the News network, although the difference in scale between the BoingBoing argument and (say) the rigged re-election of Mugabe seems a bit stark.

And of course you're right that no media form can be considered inherently objective, but having been writing about the social and political uses of games for about 15 years now, I've learned that the biases built into game structures tend to be overlooked because they're for "play."

Agreed with Jamais on all counts here. I've toyed with the Play the News site and it's still early beta....please listen to Jamais' wise notes on the titles of games and the level of interaction available. "Playing the News" is a very serious level of interaction for a participant to challenge themselves to and we should not take any of this too lightly as cultural shapeshifters. We do not want to cheapen the input that you are asking thousands or millions to play with.

On VB and BB, I've enjoyed both of their work in the past and hope that this is a small hurdle on the path to transparency. These are pretty tight circles at times and it's hard to know how to draw the lines. We all have a lot to learn and the deeper levels of transformation would be far more interesting for me to "play". How can we deepen these interactions together?


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