Group Projects

Science Beat!

The fifth in our series on this year’s group projects by Science Communication students is a science journalism themed board game by Liliana Derewnicka, Jessica Lowrie and Conor McKeever.

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Science Beat! A board game that offers you the chance to be a science journalist. Publish stories, collect evidence and face ethical dilemmas in a race to earn the most money. During the game, you’ll encounter embargoes, steal stories and collaborate with your friends. Gain an understanding of the world of science journalism, and the difficulties you would face in such a high-powered, fast-moving, cut-throat industry. Talent won’t get you everywhere though – sometimes it’s about the roll of the die and being in the right place at the right time.

The intention of our board game was to shed light on the inner workings of science journalism. On a basic level the game demonstrates the practicalities of science journalism, such as collecting newsworthy stories and evidence, waiting for embargoes, publishing, and getting paid. At a deeper level, it illustrates some of the more complicated ethical decisions journalists can face in a competitive commercial industry.

We decided a board game was the perfect medium to communicate these ideas because firstly, a board game is inherently competitive and this reflects the competitive nature of journalism. Secondly, we felt a board game would enable us to engage a larger audience by making the content interesting and fun. Finally, the board game allows the player to take on an active role, which makes it easier to pick up new ideas.

We really enjoyed the creative process of designing the different elements of the game. It was a difficult line between making the game complex enough that it could effectively communicate our message, however, not so over-complicated that a player new to the game would not be able to grasp it.

After choosing various components that we wanted to include in the game, the next step was to test it. No one in the group had any experience designing board games, and we didn’t have any knowledge of the number of each of the different squares necessary for the game to work. There was therefore a lot of trial and error in assigning the right number of squares on the board to each purpose!

There is an element of chance in the game. ‘Decision cards’ see the journalist players facing ethical conundrums. Choosing to play it safe or to gamble they must roll the die to determine the outcome of their ethical (or not so ethical) choices. Moving around the board and selecting a story to pick up also requires some luck; some stories are worth more than others and some have embargoes or require investigative evidence.  The chance aspect was incorporated to resemble real life. Often success depends not only on skill but also on simply being in the right place at the right time.

Since the Leveson Inquiry, the public have been more aware of the ethical dilemmas facing journalists, and this was something we really wanted to incorporate into the game. The ethical decision cards allow the players to experience these dilemmas first-hand. They allow them to see how journalists might be tempted to make unethical decisions; we hope that this shows that many journalistic scenarios are not simply black or white.

As well as introducing ethical decisions, we also touched on the concept of libel. We tried to illustrate the subtleties behind these complex laws. We described publishable stories with phrases like ‘in the public’s best interest’ and ‘conveys your opinion’ to exonerate the players. These exemplify common defences for publishing certain stories.

Another of our aims was to illustrate the competitive nature of working in journalism. If a player was lucky enough to land on a ‘steal a story’ square, they have the opportunity to select another player’s story to later publish as their own. However, we also made it possible for players to collaborate while on a ‘publish’ square. Players who want to publish but have not collected stories or sufficient evidence of their own can trade story cards, evidence cards and money with other player to enable them to publish. This increased communication between players, and highlighted how collaboration can lead to success.

Creating the board game was a challenging but rewarding task. Thinking up stories and scenarios which might face journalists made us rethink the way science journalism operates. By incorporating allusions to libel and ethical decisions the game suggests more complicated inner-workings to the science journalism industry. We’re pleased with the final design of our game, which is a combination of strategy and luck, and received plenty of positive feedback from our guinea pig players and many more requests to play Science Beat!

Liliana Derewnicka, Jessica Lowrie and Conor McKeever are are all currently studying for an MSc in Science Communication at Imperial College London.