What you’re about to read is not a recommendation of Ubisoft’s tweenage girl focused Imagine Journalist. No, It would be wrong of… scratch that… it would be deceitful of me to suggest that you rush out and pick up a copy of this shovelware.
The title is filled with unfounded stereotypes of people and their professions: young rugged Firemen rescuing cats from trees, politicians giving frank and open interviews, editors of major publications willing to take risks on young talent and paying them for the privilege of doing so.
It reduces highly technical skills in broadcasting, writing and investigative journalism down to rudimentary minigames repeated endlessly across several hours of unrewarding, utterly patronising play. It paints a rosy world where anyone can be and do anything with the ultimate goal to be surrounded by money and fame and celebrity. It’s a cynical lie that’s a perfect digital representation of many aspects of what the students taking part in the Occupy movement are so furious about: that the young people of first world countries are promised bountiful opportunities, only to have dreams crushed by those that stand to profit from them.
“‘Ere Daniel, how are we going to represent photography in this Journalism game?”
“Good question Johnny… ideas?”
“Create 3D models that act out a scene and ask the player to get the best shot, taking into account timing, framing, composition…”
“Whoa whoa whoa, that sounds like a lot of work! Remember we’re making this for kids…”
“Uh… ugly 2D art from Word ’97 with two frames of animation… the character does a pose and you tap the screen to take a snap?”
“Perfect, let’s wrap this baby up, we’ve had our four weeks dev time.”
It is a cheaply made product with all of the appeal and style of scuffed plastic, one that talks down to its audience – which, by the way, it assumes is female – by taking a career that takes years upon years of training and dedication, and turns it into a brightly coloured yet dull tap-the-screen-em-up.
Yet there’s a nugget of the brightest gaming gold buried within, an aspect of it that impressed me without hesitation and it just so happens to be what is arguably the most “boring” part of the game: taking notes.
Amidst the typing practice (a Simon Says clone), quote capturing (tapping speech bubbles) and radio presenting (holding an assortment of buttons when prompted), is this little gem that does a damned good job of approximating how a writer takes short-form notes at a talk or during an off-hand interview.
Here’s how it works: words slowly scroll upwards and you are asked to physically write out key phrases and facts that could be important to your story. The lower screen acts as a pad of paper while the top screen contains all of the info for your latest scoop, the player required to make decisions on what’s vital for when your boss questions you about what was relayed to you by the interviewee.[drop2]It feels so genuine, so close to the practice being shown that it crosses the boundaries from game into edutainment. What’s more, as it’s presented within a system of success and failure, it actively teaches players how to better separate the wheatey knowledge from the chaffy casual chat of interviews. Imagine Journalist – in this one area – delivers on its title, the devs handle the imagination while the user brings (and improves) the journalism.
This sole activity is useful design. It’s a skill that a reporter requires, it doesn’t belittle or pander to the wannabe columnist playing. No, it very subtly bequeaths raw practical knowledge to those that desire nothing more than to put letters and punctuation together in sentences, for meagre remuneration. In its only redeeming feature it glimpses at the mundanity and banality that can come when writing for a living; the reality that, though what you do may appear appealing, its nothing but an exercise in putting words to paper.
That’s why Imagine Journalist deserved a Playback feature to be written about it. Not because it’s good, or that it’s a hidden classic for your DS. It is for the most part a spirit crushing example of cashing in on the aspirations of the young, yet it contains one of the most successful exercises in stealth learning yet devised.