Newsgames - slowly maturing
One of the original "news games" was by the Hampton Roads, Va., paper, a simple little find-the-shoplifter affair that showed you the inside of a store, and you had to guess which people were part of the shoplifting team - roll your mouse over a person and it gave you the answer.
Sadly, it no longer seems to be online. But I made a screen video and show it in lots of my classes because it shows how relatively simple (OK, you need some Flash skills, but these days the simple rollover technique can be accomplished relatively simply) things can promote interactivity. Add quizzes and time lines to that list - things not used as much as they might be.
J-lab has been championing news games for some time. They can be excellent ways for helping an audience understand complex, dynamic issues. But they can also be as simple as the shoplifter game mentioned above.
Still, I think they remain too scarce. But I also think they are going to get more impetus as we become more mobile, a platform that, from purely personal observation, seems to lend itself more to the casual game. Gaming also is being baked into many mobile applications (think things like the badges that are part of Foursquare).
At the Georgia Institute of Technology, researchers have been looking into the intersection of news and games. Ian Bogost elaborates in this recent post on Culture Lab.
He's also lead author of a new book, Newsgames: Journalism at Play, which I hope to get to read soon.
Those folks, including one commenter on Bogost's blog post, who argue that news games are not really journalism have a point, if you look at journalism in a somewhat restricted way of continually trying to uncover new facts about institutions, poeple and the way things work. But facts don't always provide knowledge; however, examining those from various perspectives and combinations, which is what games allow, does produce knowledge.
And in an age when we are looking for user engagement, I think they are a very important piece of the puzzle.