Teaching Journalism Through a Role-Playing Game

Online games have been developed to train firefighters, soldiers, and others preparing for fast-paced jobs. So why not a game to train journalists? Nora Paul, director of the Institute of New Media Studies at the University of Minnesota, described to an audience of game scholars and developers on Monday how she and a colleague, Kathleen Hansen, helped to create such a game with a $10,000 grant from the university and advice from some experienced gamers. Ms. Paul and Ms. Hansen, a journalism professor at the university, modified the computer game, NeverWinter Nights, to develop a three-dimensional role-playing game to teach students about the intricacies of being a journalist: coming up with a story angle, identifying sources, preparing questions, synthesizing information, and writing an article. The presentation was part of a game developers conference in San Francisco.

The game has students assuming the role of a reporter who is responding to a chemical spill that forces the evacuation of a neighborhood. In an effort to show students that journalists need to treat people with respect, for example, the game depicts a cocky journalist getting the cold shoulder from sources.

Ms. Paul and Ms. Hansen are fine-tuning the game after testing it out on some honors students. The students who played the game responded positively to it, Ms. Paul said. But she noted one kink that needs to be resolved: a reporter suddenly dies after arguing with his editor.—-Andrea L. Foster

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