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News+Gameplay: Bin Laden Raid
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News+Gameplay: Bin Laden Raid


May 20, 2011 Article Start Previous Page 4 of 4
 

Afterthoughts: Design Principles

I stated above that this newsgame is considered a "spacial reality". Ian Bogost informed me of this classification via email after asking me a few questions about what we created. The answers I gave Ian were in reply to the question "What's the journalism part of it?"

My answer to that question was that the intended journalism was the physical accuracy of our newsgame. Everything was built to scale, the people were placed where they were reported to have been, Osama bin Laden was unarmed, the woman ran at the SEALs, there were two Blackhawk helicopters (one damaged), there was a pile of burning trash, a German Shepherd, and chickens. By laying out all of these details where they were reported to be, we summed up the mission in the most succinct way possible and simultaneously presented the highest level of fidelity at the time.

Kuma War's version of the compound looked more richly detailed, in my opinion, but it was also clearly not to scale. The rooms inside were cavernous, Osama bin Laden was armed, and he also appeared in random rooms.

I think that the contrast between these two products demonstrates the difference between a newsgame and a game based on the news. Kuma War: 107 is a game intended to entertain; Bin Laden Raid is a newsgame, intended to inform.

In some places we referred to Bin Laden Raid as a sim. It's a sim because it presents a real-world environment built to scale, as well as circumstances based on the most accurate reports at the time. It is a game because we didn't include every soldier that actually participated in the event, because we used the other soldiers mainly as navigational clues, and because it doesn't take 40 minutes to complete the mission.

There were other design decisions that we made in order to keep the story accurate. For example, the player cannot be shot or shoot the other soldiers, because there were no reported injuries to the SEAL team. We weren't trying to give players a playground to wreak havoc upon; we were trying to bring them into the compound and execute the actions (generally) that the SEALs executed.

Afterthoughts: Public Reaction

In general, the public reaction to Bin Laden Raid has been good. Most people seem to be excited for games to become a news medium (especially the reporters we talked to). This signals a huge change from JFK: Reloaded or Sully's Flight. Of course, it could simply be the fact that this newsgame isn't about an American hero but rather a terrorist leader who is widely hated around the world.

All the same, I'm hopeful that people are opening up to the medium -- but from some of the questions reporters have asked I fear that the game's acceptance hangs on the fact that people feel a certain degree of catharsis when they pull the trigger on the former terrorist leader.

When it comes to gamers, I think most prefer Kuma War. In terms of traditional game metrics, I think they trumped us. However, it's true that they are in business full-time to make what they made. My team was assembled on the fly with no prior experience delivering a game this way, and we delivered our game on the same day as Kuma.

Some of the articles proclaimed our take on the situation as the more interesting one, because it was intended to be taken seriously and not just be a fun game with some catharsis on the side. If anything, the feelings people have are completely independent of our game, because we didn't intend to make any sort of point with Bin Laden Raid other than "it happened" and "here's the 3D interactive interpretation of what occurred".

Again, we weren't making a game based on the news. We made a newsgame. We laid the environment, characters, and events out in such a way as to replicate the reports of the time and let players experience them from the ground.

I think that some of my comments have been taken too seriously (judging by other peoples' comments on the Wired piece). I realize that this newsgame isn't the end-all, be-all in terms of experience, but on the Saturday after the event it was the best available.

It was more accurate than Kuma War and it simultaneously looked better and was more interactive than any of the canned 3D animations on the major news networks. With those facts in mind, yes, we had the premiere window into the mission as it looked on the ground. It wasn't exactly what the SEALs saw, but it was better than any other 3D recreation at the time.

Final Thoughts

At this point it's been nearly two weeks since the release of News+Gameplay's Bin Laden Raid. I've had a bit more time to think about this newsgame, and even about this article. In general, I do feel that the medium presents many benefits that are not present in text or video. However, I also feel that I have presented our game and mission in an overzealous fashion. Clearly, newsgames offer us a new way to view the news. Today they give us a 360-degree ground level view of models built to scale. Tomorrow they will offer us new possibilities.

When I got my copy of Ian's book Newsgames, I complimented him on the objectivity of the book. Far too often, we game developers are so excited about what we see in our own minds that we forget the rest of the world sees only the here and now. The rest of the world wants objectivity.

I like objectivity and strive to create things that are objective. I think we did that with Bin Laden Raid. We took the facts and made a 3D interactive piece with them. The quality of what we created is amazing to me considering that it wasn't our full time job, that we weren't plugging a map into a pre-defined pipeline, and that we were actually reporting on a story in which new facts were being reported every day.

I don't see Bin Laden Raid itself as a creative work like traditional games. The people involved in the actual event created it. We compiled the facts and spit them out in a new format. I think the creative part is seeing what newsgames can be in the future. I think that future is bright and wide open.


Article Start Previous Page 4 of 4

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