A critical part of many megagames is a Press or Media role
It seemed to me worthwhile to say a little about what being the press in a megegame entails and why it is probably the most involving and coolest roles of all (after being on the Control Team, that is).
First a bit on the game function of Press in games. The press are there to create an atmosphere of challenge for players – especially those playing political roles. It is easy for players to stand up and announce how well they are doing or make some entirely self-serving announcement – but as in real life, if their spin or dissembling is too far from the truth it must be challenged, otherwise game communications and public statements become meaningless nonsense pretty quickly – and therefore detract from the gameplay experience for everyone else as the other participants are having to listen to players who merely like the sound of their own voices. It is a waste of the limited time we have in a day of gaming.
So a key aspect of the press/media team is to challenge these statements. They do this best by producing a new-sheet or a blog post or twitter headlines (or whatever technology is being used for the game) which asks questions and expects the political players to justify, and provide evidence for, their pronouncements.
Some have suggested that this could be a Control role, and indeed it can, but Control are not at all well placed to perform the press function because:
a. they know too much about ‘reality as it is’ and are often sorely tempted to use that information – thus creating unintentional leaks and spoilers – and potentially harming the players’ experience of emerging gameplay.
b. players are often suspcious of Control-run press because of fears of being railroaded. There is a very real risk of players seeing control-generated press as ‘instructions’ of what they must do in the game.
c. Control cannot ‘go for the throat’ and publish a political hatchet-job on a player or team where they have messed up being caught out lying (or whatever). Control will feel they have to be impartial and ‘fair’ in a way a player-run team does not. This dangerously dilutes the impact of the press.
d. Control has no game objectives (other than to ensure the smooth running of the game) whereas players can be given their own agenda, and they can fully and wholeheartedly engage in wheeling and dealing with political players. And can be influenced in a way that Control never can be.
So, the flow of news about what is going on the game world being represented has tremendous influence.
In many games, positive or negative reporting in the game-media has direct game effects as part of the game system, or perhaps reporting has direct feedback into individual player objectives. Where the press are at their best is where everyone really needs to ensure their image in the media is sound.
Press Teams in Action
Typically we organise the press into teams (we have had amazingly capable individuals play the roles, but like so much in megagames – the team is the thing).
Functionally, they are at their best when they are able to divide up tasks and work properly as a team – with some team members perhaps writing the next articles on a laptop whicle others are out and about around the game news-gathering, interviewing or evesdropping on conversations to get a story. They also get ‘leaks’ from Control from time to time.
We have found that the press teams that get out and about have the most fun and the most impact. Player teams are always trying to get their carefully prepared press releases published verbatim in the game newsheets – and the best press teams generally ignore them (other than to perhaps pull something quoteworthy out of the release) because otherwise their entire game is just typing in press releases – something neither useful in the game or interesting.
Being active and asking awkward questions is really what it is all about.
It is fairly easy to run the press corps using tabloid-style ‘shock-horror’ reporting. And whilst this might seem hilarious and is very easy, it isn’t necessarily the best way of reporting.
The role of world media in public opinion forming runs well beyond this, and we always encourgae the press players to report more in the style of the BBC’s Newsnight programme or a serious newspaper rather than the tabloids.
The reason for this is simple. The more outrageous the reporting style, the more the players can just laugh and dismiss it. And to be a role worth playing the press need to be taken seriously as opinion formers and reflecting the view of the (non-playeed) general public.
Serious reporting cannot be so easily dismissed, and will have an effect (via Game Control or game systems) on informed popular opinion – which in turn will impact on some players’ objectives
Serious reporting also gives the press players more influence as reporters when speaking to the players – it really matters to the other players what is said and reported.
Why Be On the Press Team?
The press role might seem like its a lot of hard work.
There may be something in thus but nothing is hard work if it is fun, and being on the press team is a lot of fun.
Not only is there the opportunity to be a key influener on game outcomes, but the press team get to see more of the game than any other role (including Control).
They gain a better sense of the emerging narrative and all the weird and wonderful events that crop up during a day of intense megagaming.
True there is some pressure in producing multiple news-sheets or blog posts during the day- but there is pressure on all teams in a megagame – this is not unique to the press role.
And the sense of satisfaction (and appreciation from your fellow megagamers) at the end of the day is palpable – and I say that as someone who has played press roles myself and thoroughly enjoyed them every time.
Writing the news give you a chance to be witty, to make a point, to point out injustice and deceit and to have a laugh at the discomfort of pompous politicians.
What’s not to love about that?