Jane is the Director of Game Research and Development at the Institute for the Future, in Palo Alto, Cal. In addition to be a leading developer of online games focusing on real-world issues (World Without Oil), Jane continues to research the implications of gaming on such things as learning and emotions, all from an academic perspective.

Her talk at SXSW fascinated me because I thought it had strong implications for contemporary issues in journalism despite being about a completely different field.

She focused her talk on the ways gaming could contribute to social happiness, using her own research and building on previous talks. In her view, there are clear lessons to be gleaned from gamers and the activity of planning online games that can be applied to real life, particularly in the context of the new studies of “happiness” as a field of psychology.

In the talk, she noted she noted the increasing desire of many people to make meaning in their life and thereby improve their individual quality of life.  In her research, she has identified four factors that are the prime contributors to an individual’s “well-being index:”

  • Satisfying work to do.
  • The experience to be good at something.
  • Time spent with people we like.
  • The chance to a part of something bigger.

When I think about the application of these things to journalism, I realize that media companies could be using a completely different paradigm to evaluate their product and assess whether or not the product is contributing truly to the audience’s “well-being index.”

Journalism could be reinvented to offer the same information as now, but do so online by taking on the attributes of gaming with a presentation that might make the end product far more relevant and satisfying.

Media companies could re-examine their processes to see if they are truly enabling their employees to act creatively to report on societal trends and individual actions that might strengthen community formation and enable individuals to feel connected to a larger societal purpose.  At the same time, I think content presentation could constructed in a way that facilitates true learning as the best games or simulations do now.  Multimedia and interactivity have a huge role to play in enabling that kind of information presentation in the digital landscape.

The narratives we tell as multimedia journalists depends entirely on the focus of our vision and the willingness of our subjects to share the intimacies of their lives with us.  They do so more readily if they perceive us, as journalists, to be empathetic and authentic in our interest in them and the story of their lives.

I believe our satisfaction as journalists is directly related to the way our media companies support our personal creative development and the way we are empowered to act to find stories of significance and to engage with kindred spirits within the organization to develop the stories.

As I have said before, I think too often media companies have become “factories” producing content by rote processes that have not been fully examined for their value to the audience or the practitioners alike.  Enabling content creation that would enhance audience satisfaction along the lines that Jane laid out in her speech would be a wonderful thing.   It all starts with intentional re-examination and a willingness to discard practices that aren’t contributing to a “well-being index” on any side.

Jane also addressed new skills in her SXSW talk that came directly from time spent engaging in multiplayer online games, offering these labels and definitions:

  • Mobbability - the ability to collaborate and coordinate large scales.
  • Cooperation radar – the ability to detect instinctively the best collaborator for a mission.
  • Ping quotient - the ability to reach out to others in a network and engage them productively.
  • Influency – the ability to adapt persuasive strategies to map well with specific mediums, individuals, forms, or environments.
  • Multi-capitalism – the ability to work with different forms of capital (social, financial, intellectual) and to get others to make appropriate capital trades.
  • Protovation – the ability to innovate and iterate rapidly, thereby lowering production development costs and increasing speed of failure.
  • Open Authorship - the ability to create content for public consumption and modification.
  • Noise Management - the ability to produce meaningful information, patterns, and views of commonality from multiple data streams.
  • Longbroading – the ability to think in terms of higher level systems and cycles, (to see the big picture).
  • Emergensight - the ability to prepare for and handle surprising results and multiple levels of complexity.

To me , these traits all seem likely to help expand the value of journalism if they become part of individual journalist skill sets.  If that happens, then perhaps media companies and journalists alike can contribute more readily to the social capital formation necessary to build a better world.

Perhaps too, the public would once again recognize the value of journalism as a tool in their lives, and be willing to support its production in a more robust way?