Chungking Espresso

Forums Roman and Virtual

Posted in Columns, Newsgames, Schoolwork by Simon Ferrari on December 9, 2008

When it comes to discourse over the Internet and the popular develop of the semantic web through tagging and sharing newsworthy items, we here at JAG have mostly read material that finds these areas of Internet development lacking. Our original discussions of the subject have largely fallen back on a somewhat weak stance of agreement that Reddit is better than Digg – because of filtering and its more intuitive upvoting and downvoting scheme – yet not better enough to mark a major victory for Internet intelligence and citizen journalism. As far as the quality of reader forums surrounding newspapers go, there’s still far too much flaming and nitpicking going on to really generate useful input for a newspaper most of the time. I’ve been bouncing around an idea for awhile that might be a “gamey” or ludic solution to this problem (although requiring far more resources than we’re able to acquire for our research). So I figured I’d jot down everything I’d come up with so far and ask for feedback from you, the reading community, on how you’d personally improve the system I’ve devised.

The basic idea is to create an online, multiplayer Roman-style forum within which to encourage meaningful debate, story sharing, and contribution to a news story – be it political or apolitical in nature. I’m not sure of the ideal server population for such a game. I’ve enjoyed a fairly deep political climate in MUDs such as Achaea that had slightly fewer than 100 heavily active users and 300 casual users at any given time. The game would, of course, have to be graphics-based for my idea to work. The key here is to tie people’s online voices in forums to an avatar that they actually care about. Something like this could be done in Second Life, but I’ve found that particular virtual world difficult to navigate as a novice user unsure of where to go. I feel that giving a player’s opinion on a news story a face and a body (virtually) in such a game would lead them to debate issues constructively (or at least intelligently) while avoiding flaming. Each realm would be monitored by volunteer moderators who would also reward players for continued contribution to posting news stories and rating them based on journalistic values. Their other duty would be to keep score during official debates over contentious issues. The experience points and levels rewarded to players would allow them to “pimp out” their avatars, have more weight in upvoting or downvoting news stories, and speak more during crowded debates.

What are some problems with this idea? Well, cost for one. Unless there was large user base and the game attracted well-paying advertisers there’d definitely be maintenance and development cost issues here. Also, it’s more time-consuming for the average user to participate in a virtual world like this instead of just checking in on Reddit, Digg, or their RSS feed. But maybe it would attract the bored, mature WoW player who has a few hours to kill before her guild dives into Black Temple for the evening? Can anyone help me modify this idea to make it cheaper or more casual? (I’m starting to realize that something like this would actually be fairly easy to implement in Second Life as a prototype). Thanks for reading!

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