The game is short—it only took me about an hour—and I wouldn’t necessarily decry that fact were it more like Papers, Please, a game I replayed multiple times to see what else could happen. What if I’d let that woman into the country illegally with her husband? What if I’d taken money to turn away perfectly good citizens?
But there’s not much room for nuance in The Westport Independent, both because of its polarizing good-guys-and-bad-guys conflict and because it ends so quickly. The journey is a fairly one-note affair, and halfway through a second run I was bored. It largely consists of “Play again, but choose the other option.” Two sides of a coin. Two extremes.
Real life isn’t that simple, nor are the problems with the media. The Westport Independent grazes at truth, but oversimplification renders the game almost a caricature—less about actual ethical quandaries and more about “Are you an asshole or a reasonable human being?”
Add in more than a few grammatical errors, some spelling mistakes, and a few bugs (the ending crawl described how one of my staffers both stayed at and simultaneously left the newspaper), and it’s hard to recommend The Westport Independent. Which is a shame because I think it has at least one extremely important learn-by-example thing to say about media bias, and how it can manifest in something as simple as a lie of omission. That’s a powerful message, and one it would be useful for more people to understand. To ask questions of the media, people need to understand how the media operates.
But whether The Westport Independent is worth diving into for that one kernel of truth? On that, I’m more ambivalent.
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