I’m at the University of Minnesota this weekend, where Nora Paul has organized a workshop on Newsgames. It’s an excellent group, comprised of equal parts journalists, game developers, and academics.

On the flight over, I read Ivor Southwood’s Non-Stop Inertia. It’s about the precarious nature of work in the contemporary world, but I happened across a fantastically wry and apt critique of the current state of journalism in the book.

Perhaps the most vivid dramatization of placeless anxiety is 24 hour news. With its pumping and draining of personalities and monitoring of vital signs, digital news depicts the world as a continually unfolding narrative of non-places–business zones, transport terminals, entertainment complexes, the news studio, and the Internet themselves–upon which the multi-platform precarity of everyday life is enacted and its blurred perspective reproduced. There is now no time to assess a news story from a critical distance, because the reporter has to comment on the event “as it happens” (or even before it happens) and improvise to fill the space, using speculation or viewer-supplied material if necessary. This is the media equivalent of “looking busy.”

I gave a presentation yesterday, and I was thrilled to be able to include this at the end. One of the primary challenges for newsgames (and for computational journalism in general) emerges from the media industry’s continued obsession with the daily newsroom and the media ecology of stories, videos, images, and so forth. The media makes these things not because they “work,” but because that’s what it means to do one’s job—to press forward on restless activity despite its impotence. It’s not just McJobs and grey cubicles that culture paralysis at work, but also public, high-gloss industries like media.

At the end of Newsgames: Journalism at Play, we tell the story of some of the difficulties we encountered at Persuasive Games publishing with the New York Times. It’s only one example, but it’s instructive, and I think very common. There is a misperception that the problem with newsgames adoption is one of viability or respect—games aren’t a mature cultural form, or they’re just for kids, or they haven’t proven their salt, or they don’t have a viable business model, or what have you. But the real problem is that newsgames don’t match the routine of media organizations. These routines must be maintained at all costs, not to insure quality or success, but to maintain inertia.

published April 3, 2011


  1. Miguel

    Hey Ian, I really support everything you do to improve the image of video games in mainstream culture, and I agree with your emphasis on making the more academic aspects of Game Studies accessible to laypersons. I’ve learned a lot from your writing, and I would like to get your feedback on this analysis I wrote of Mass Effect. I’m trying to hone my skills so that I can also contribute to the effort of changing the way video games are perceived. So yeah, any tips would be appreciated.


  2. Dakota Reese Brown

    “…or they don’t have a viable business model, or what have you.”

    It just struck me how much of a BS argument the above is against newsgames.

    While “newsgames” could mean other things, it certainly carries along with it an implication of an online channel. Through that lens, anyone with a calculator would have to agree the online games have a much stronger general business model than online news does.

    The more I think about it, the more I’m just circling around to validate your point, but outside of a valid online business model (unless the NYT proves us all wrong) the only asset that online news really has is its legacy inertia.

  3. Ian Bogost


    Yes, it’s clearly just an excuse. After all, most of the really important journalistic activities (investigative reporting, foreign bureaus etc.) are only cost centers. But in my experience, even if one presents a revenue model for these games, that’s not really the problem.

  4. Mr. Seacrudge

    They’re going out of business.

    Currently kept alive as wholly owned subsidiaries of larger businesses, which serve an important PR function.

    It doesn’t matter if NBC loses a few hundred million, if it can convince the public that buying a dozen more nuclear reactors from GE is the solution to the energy crisis. Or sell a multi-trillion dollar war, or help put an industry shill into govt office, or whatever the latest financial and humanitarian disaster they’re pushing is.

    However, we’ve now reached the point where they’ve screwed the public so any times they’re only marginally useful even in this PR role.

    The question is: why give them another propaganda tool?

    Who do you think would win this artistic contest: those motivated by love, working for free; or those getting paid by the hour, to fabricate lies?

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