Posted by: structureofnews | November 16, 2010

Budget Games

The New York Times offers an interactive game that lets users try to balance the US budget, both in the short-term and long-term.  It’s a good idea, in the sense that immersing someone in a process with a goal – ie, a game – can really build engagement as well as learning – a twofer from a journalism and business point of view.

In this case, the idea is that you try to fix the budget shortfall by making a series of choices – cut foreign aid, raise taxes, etc – until you close a $418 billion gap.

The New York Times has conducted its own analysis of the federal budget, but with a different final product. Rather than making recommendations, we are laying out a menu of major options, so that readers can come up with their own plan.

The only problem is that it’s not much of a game.  Felix Salmon at CJR skewers it for the stilted choices it offers, and rightly so.  But mostly it’s just not much fun.  The design is too linear, and the interactivity much too limited to really engross anyone but the most dedicated budget geek.  You go down a list of options and check things off; it would be far more interesting to fix shapes representing amounts in a box, or perform some other physical task that presents the budget in a more spacial manner.

That said, it’s easy to say – much harder to do.  Which is a reminder that fresh ideas, while relatively rare, are still the easy part.  Actual execution is much more important.


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