News as a game

MSNBC has unveiled some innovative ways of getting the news at NewsWare, its “laboratory for news-infused games, tools and other experimentation.” Among them: two “immersive” news apps (a customizable newsreader and a screensaver), a couple of news widgets and two news arcade games.

The idea is to make news more accessible and fun. I’ve just started exploring them and here are a few reactions:

The colorful Spectra newsreader isn’t hard to set up but it’s a little confusing. I’d expected to be able to click on a rotating headline box to get more information about that story, but instead the stories pop up in a pre-determined order.

The news scroller widget seems to be easy to customize and embed in all kinds of pages, including blogs like this one on, but when I used the “post” button all I got was a link to a generic widget page. The real “embed” function requires Javascript, which doesn’t support. For PC users, the desktop version only works on Vista, which I don’t have and don’t think I want to have. Disappointing.

Then there are the games. The intended audience undoubtedly isn’t my demographic, but I have to say the NewsBlaster arcade game left me cold. Blasting “orbs” gets you headlines in a box, but unless you really want to hit pause to read them you could play an entire game without absorbing any news at all. NewsBreaker gives you more chances to actually see the headlines; they float down inside the game screen itself while you’re blasting “bricks.”

I’m not sure they’re for me, but kudos to MSNBC for experimenting.