Developing games that act as commentary, education or provocation on world issues have a challenge at their core: Creating objects that behave in accordance with rules is primary to game design, yet with newsgames, "what is this about" becomes the most important question.
At GDC 2012, Georgia Tech professor, lecturer and developer of newsgames Ian Bogost unveiled what he and his colleagues hope will be a multi-legged solution for concepting newsgames -- and for simplifying a workflow process that keeps game concepts tied to their issue roots.
With funding from the Knight News Challenge, the Flash-based Game-o-Matic is the result of a collaboration between Digital Media at the Georgia Institute of Technology and UC Santa Cruz's expressive intelligence studio.
The tool relies on object-verb relationship, such as "attacks" or "follows," to create functioning (though admittedly "not very good," according to Bogost) games about how nouns affect one another -- literally within minutes, even seconds.
Users can select or upload graphical representations of the nouns and control their behavior through the use of a concept map. The intention is to help creators strengthen newsgames by letting them work directly at the conceptual level from the beginning.
Certainly, as it's simple enough that nearly anyone can make games, Game-o-Matic can see other applications besides newsgames: "The infrastructure can take on a life of its own beyond journalism," Bogost says.
The intention is less to democratize the creation of newsgames as to open up opportunities for more kinds of them. In his view, there's an analogue in the trajectory of a snapshot camera, hardware that got ever simpler, smaller and more accessible while the creative options for what users could do with the resulting photos became more complex and advanced.
The developers of the Game-o-Matic hope it will also be used as a tool to puzzle the relationships between objects, and for better understanding procedural rhetoric.