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My code-free adventure designing an interactive game

Screenshot of Tierra Smith's interactive newsgame. Click to view larger.

By Tierra Smith 

As a first-timer to the CAR Conference and someone previously unfamiliar with data journalism, I was feeling pretty overwhelmed by Saturday of NICAR15.

I was dropped into a whole new world where everyone was speaking a totally different language. I felt myself constantly clutching my notepad and scribbling down "new words" like "D3." I was determined to figure out what everything meant.

Then I found "Create your own interactive newsgame without coding." The hands-on class was prefect for someone interested in data journalism, but who doesn’t know a lot of HTML or other programming languages. 

Rebekah Monson, cofounder of The New Tropic, walked us through how to create text-based web games, similar to the choose-your-own-adventure books we read as kids. Text-based games are about narrative and choice. The games usually present a problem and, based on players' responses, it walks them through an adventure.

There are several types of interactive games. Some are news-based while others highlight a problem with society. Monson suggested a few for us to try: Depression Quest, A Dark Room and Howling Dogs.

To build our games, we used the application Twine 2. I was surprised by how little coding was necessary to create something interactive. The creation process met you at your level — from beginner to the most advanced data junkie.

The possibilities were limitless. The best part was that Twine was so user-friendly that it sparked my desire to learn more. Monson provided a link to the Twine 2 Syntax Guide, which is a resource for more codes and tools. You can resize fonts, add images or design elements and use other tools to enhance your narrative.

I decided to make a game about the decisions facing college freshmen. Would they live on or off campus? What about a meal plan? Would they study or party? At the end, their choices would determine if they survived their first year or ended up in their parents' basement. I think my game will help incoming freshman with decision-making and planning. 

I am still working on my game, but I am excited to see how it turns out.


Tierra Smith is a 2015 CAR Conference Knight Scholar and a senior at Grambling State University. She is studying mass communication with a concentration in sports journalism. She is also the editor-in-chief of The Gramblinite at GSU.

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