Global Conflicts Pt. 1: Teaching Journalism

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(This post was prepared by Bobby Schweizer and Sergio Goldenberg)

The Global Conflicts games, which include Palestine and Latin America, is a PC game series produced by Serious Games Interactive, a company from Copenhagen, Denmark. The games position the player as a journalist in the middle of a regional conflict looking to discover information. In 2007's Global Conflicts: Palestine, Serious Games Interactive focused on position the player amidst the Israel-Palestine conflict as a journalist who needs to conduct interviews of both sides so as to gain information needed to write a newspaper article. 


Global Conflicts: Latin American, released in 2008, turns the player's attention to Bolivia, Guatemala, and Mexico, where investigative skills help support the interview process. Though each game has different in-game goals, the external goals are to teach the practice of journalism, media literacy, and research and historiographical skills. This is the first in a series of posts which analyzes how the Global Conflicts games are used as instructional tools, how the games function for different kinds of learning, and a critical analysis of the internal mechanisms of the games.

It's easy to make an initial connection with the aspect of the game concerned with journalistic practice--the most outwardly explicit intention of the game. As one of our areas of interest in the News Games project, the portrayal or teaching of a journalist's behavior reflects a cultural understandings of the profession (both practically and idealistically) and we see how this is translated into a simulated environment. More about the spaces and processes of the game will be elaborated on in forthcoming entries, but fundamental descriptions of each game's goals are a productive place to begin.

GC: Palestine teaches interviewing skills through dialogue trees that present a fairly simple spectrum of questions aligned to either the Israeli or Palestinian side. As the player engages with the interviewees, they develop reporter-source relationships, earning confidence which in turns opens their access to more guarded information. Within the dialogue, the game teaches relevant information aggregation with its "quote notebook" which lets the player choose 5 quotes that will be used to write their final story. 

Beginning the game, the player chooses to write for a specific audience by choosing a culturally-aligned newspaper outlet and the actual production of a newspaper article at the end of the game that is scored by the system based on this alignment. During the mission the player interviews soldiers, detainees, civilians and politicians from both sides. Depending on their alignment, the player must choose, like puzzle pieces, from their gathered quotes that which will make a newspaper story. it includes a headline, body text, a pullquote, and a photo. After submitting the newspaper page the player is scored based on the quality of the story and how well it matches their chosen alignment. 

GC: Latin America, on the other hand, focuses more on the "final interview," in which the player uses the information they've collected by investigating people in the geographical area. The assignment--either Bolivia, Guatemala, and Mexico--is chosen by the player at the beginning of the game. They then travel around the city interviewing different sources and making notes of their work. In this new iteration of the game the user has a designated number of arguments and statements that need to be collected in the alloted time while investigating. At the end of this timeframe, the reporter is given a "final interview" with the subject in question. 

In the case of the Guatemala mission, the interview was conducted with military general of questionable character who is running for the Guatemalan presidency. While the other interviews are merely branching dialogue trees without interesting user involvement, the final argument permits the player to pursue a line of questioning aided by the supporting facts and counter-arguments collected from the other interviews. Depending on the quality of the reporting, the user will have gathered enough arguments for this last assignment. This is a vital task that journalists have to perform in interviews, and the final interview in Global Conflicts: Latin America better simulates the dialogue of an interview. Although it should be a bit more flexible in terms of when to trigger those counter-arguments, I believe it's a good milestone in this kind of game. At the end of the game a score and statistics page display to quantify the results of the player's journalistic practice.

This kind of culminating interview is only a small segment of journalistic practice, however, and reveals that the goals of the Global Conflicts series changed somewhat between the first and second game. Putting together a newspaper article is a fundamental of journalism. Another similarly symbolic artifact could have been chosen to exemplify journalism and the newsmaking process in Latin America, but instead they used something that's more of a skill one would learn in a classroom setting. This will be elaborated on further in the other parts of this blogpost series, but it's important to note that there's something about Global Conflicts: Latin America that is less about journalism directly and more about developing interview and research skills.

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