Be Graham: The Westport Independent Demo

Maddeningly, it won't let me correct that mistake.

The Westport Independent [official site] may well remind you of Lucas Pope’s dystopia-o-deskjob games Papers, Please and The Republia Times, which are fine games to be reminded of.

It’s a game about editing a newspaper in an oppressive state where the government is increasingly trying to censor and control everything. As you edit articles and put issues together, you can fight The Man, support Him, or just put your head down and try to keep your paper running and your staff happy. As you can see for yourself in a new alpha demo.

It works like: each week you have a few articles you can edit, change their tone and how they are received by different readers, or toss out. You might sensationalise headlines about celebrities, strike out lines criticising the government, or highlight how awful The Man is. Editing’s simple: click to change the headline to another preset, and click to strike out paragraphs. Once you’re done, shuffle it off to a writer – who each have their own affiliations and interests. Then arrange the finished articles into a newspaper, choose how to distribute copies between neighbourhoods (who look for different things in a paper), and hope it doesn’t all bite you in the botty.

See, loyalists won’t like you criticising the government, but rebels won’t like you sucking up to The Man either. This can all affect your readership, the subjects of articles, your staff, and your city too.

Developers Double Zero One Zero say this alpha demo is “not even close” to done, but I like where the game’s going. I predict great intrigue.

From this site

28 Comments

  1. Premium User Badge

    Graham Smith says:

    o/

  2. Kollega says:

    Maybe I’m in the minority here, but I feel that games that decide to get into thorny policital issues, like The Westpoint Independent or Papers, Please, should not just show us those issues, but take an active moral stance about them (i.e. spell out a clear message that dictatorship is bad and what you can do to prevent it). Call me naive all you want, but I hope this game gives people practical advice on, for example, what an average person can do to preserve and improve the freedom of the press, rather than just depicting how hard it is to run a newspaper under the jackboot of a repressive government.

    • Mctittles says:

      If you want to sell a certain opinion and you are smart about what you are doing then you never spell out exactly what you want. We are reluctant to do things someone else tells us to do or believe things people say we should believe. We like to come to our own decisions on things. So what you do is present someone with the “facts” (skewed or otherwise doesn’t matter), then say you have no opinion and let the viewer come up with one on their own. If your “facts” are presented biased toward your angle then the obvious answer will be what you want, and the added benefit of people coming to their own decision will turn more to your side.

      • Kollega says:

        That’s… a good point, I guess. For a variety of reasons, I’m used way more to “weighty, rough, observable” propaganda that tells you outright what to do and what to believe, and dismisses all other viewpoints as evil, rather than news reporting that pretends to have no opinion but skews the truth, or even presents the truth as it is because the truth aligns with the values of the reporters – so I grew to think that a work of art that wants to push a certain viewpoint must be as unsubtle about it as a sledgehammer strike to the face.

        And actually, considering how this game is all about doctoring the truth, rather than outright “join us, we have tasty cupcakes!” propaganda… yeah, that wooshing sound you just heard was the point of the game going right over my head. Even if I still think the game should have a notes page on how to protect freedom of the press, as to give the player some basic recommendations.

        • frogulox says:

          “..I’m used way more to “weighty, rough, observable” propaganda..”

          Or indeed not, which is why the stuff you dont even know is actually propaganda is so damb effective.
          popular media in all forms, realistically.

          • Kollega says:

            But there’s still a difference between “just propaganda” (by definition, any work that pushes a viewpoint, subtly or unsubtly) and “blatant propaganda” (by which I mean things like allying with Eurasia, then declaring war on them and saying you’ve always been at war with Eurasia, and which is less common these days compared to more subtle agenda-pushing).

          • Press X to Gary Busey says:

            Also viral marketing 101. Make people think they came to positive conclusions about a service or product themselves and they will prefer it and even recommend it to their friends rather than the older school of “BUY OUR SHIT AND YOU WILL BE COOL! *unrelated giggling bikini girls*”

  3. Eight Rooks says:

    I don’t have a problem with games taking that stance – I very much believe more games should pick a moral issue, choose a side and back it to the hilt – but I don’t think every game that covers a moral issue should feel compelled to spell it out in black and white that X Is A Very Bad Thing. That way lies well-meaning-but-mediocre efforts like Blackbar on mobile that barely have anything to say. Life isn’t black and white. From everything I’ve ever read, heard or seen, existence under the jackboot of a repressive government isn’t an unending nightmare every second of every day (hell, even in North Korea) and suggesting that every game that touches on this or similar subject matter should be all CITIZENS, HERE IS YOUR TOOLKIT FOR INSTIGATING REVOLUTION AGAINST YOUR DEMONIC OVERLORDS AT ONCE is somewhat… reductive, IMO.

    • Eight Rooks says:

      (Reply fail, was directed at Kollega above)

    • Kollega says:

      While I generally agree with the notion that life isn’t black and white, I also agree with the notion that, to quote one (in)famous line from Dmitriy Medvedev, “freedom is better than non-freedom”. Countries without the free press are, on average, shittier than countries with the free press, so I do believe that free press is, generally, a good thing for the well-being of people/country/nation/what have you. And since this game is all about how freedom of the press can be restricted by an authoritarian government and what it means for the press itself, I believe it wouldn’t be any worse for the game if after the credits, it had a few tips about what an average person can do to defend freedom of the press.

      • Troika says:

        ” Countries without the free press are, on average, shittier”

        I feel your pain, colleague.

      • DmUa says:

        You dont have to be an authoritarian government to restrict press, being owner of media is sufficient in almost all cases. =P

    • DmUa says:

      Republia Times was a loop were after you helped rebels to overthrow “evil” government, you ended up in same position as before, with your new family being held hostage by new “definitelynotoppressiveauthorities”.

      Understand this, when creator injecting his work of fiction and entertainment with portion of political or ideological agenda this work cease to be entertainment and becomes propaganda. Even if author will advocate such a nice and nigh mythological things like freedom of press.

      • Kollega says:

        Ah yes, good old cynicism in the style of “the world is a horrible place by default, so advocating for good things is pointless since they’ll never come to pass”. I’m definitely no stranger to thinking that. But I think you have missed the point I wanted to make by a few dozen kilometres, the point being: why set out to make a game that depicts controversial political issues and then turn it into “entertainment” without an implicit or explicit stance against injustice? Would Spec Ops: The Line be better if it didn’t have an explicit message about the cost of playing hero in a real war?

        • Haplo says:

          Out of curiosity, here are some questions for you sir.

          1) If the game makes ‘operate a newspaper successfully during an oppressive regime’ the core challenge of the game- if you can actually encounter a lose state because you don’t censor as the government likes- would that be considered an implicit argument for the freedom of the press?
          2) Following on from that, if the player comes to the conclusion seemingly by themselves (but in reality due to the pressures of the game) that operating a free press whilst living in a repressive regime is ‘hard’ or ‘difficult’ by themselves as a natural result of gameplay, does that count as a clever method of establishing the argument, or does it dilute the point?
          3) Finally, if the game makes the ‘censor self, follow government line’ route a possible victory route, in which you might be rewarded, does that, in your perspective, dilute the point?

          Interested to hear what you think!

          • Kollega says:

            Answers in order of appearance:

            1) You are perfectly right – if you can lose because you don’t bow down to the government, it is an implicit (though not explicit) argument for the freedom of the press. But Papers, Please does the same thing and provides an implicit argument that border control is very unpleasant business, especially when it protects the interests of an oppressive government, and I still find that depressing as all hell because the game doesn’t tell the players how they can fight for more humane rules at the borders. It just leaves me with the impression that the system cannot be changed and the best we as people can do within it is survive.

            2) Again, you are providing a good point – that if the players come to the conclusion that running a free newspaper under an authoritarian government is difficult, it is a clever method of establishing an argument – but only if the player is already strongly in favour of free press and believes that it is important enough to stick it up to the authoritarian government. On the surface, the argument is just “it’s difficult to be honest in a police state”, and if the player doesn’t consider freedom and honesty important virtues or virtues at all, the message for freedom and honesty is kind of lost. That’s what I mean by “the game should take a moral stance”: if I were writing it, I’d add subtle or not-so-subtle elements advocating a viewpoint that fighting for truth, freedom, and all that good stuff can be as important as, or in some cases possibly even more important than, the natural desire to not be arrested by the secret police, and that it can ultimately result in something good.

            3) Yes and no. I honestly believe that if the game makes following the Party line and bending to every whim of the government a possible victory condition AND doesn’t admonish you for it in some fashion, for example by one of the characters or the text on the ending screen calling you out, the resulting message is “Supporting oppressive governments is fun AND profitable! Go on, try it!”. And that, in my eyes, is not a good message at all. But if the game uses the self-censorship route as an example of how authoritarian governments can make good men do evil, and in the end you or your employees suffer just because the government no longer finds you useful, it would be a good demonstration of why one shouldn’t support dictatorships.

            In conclusion: when I say that games like this one or Papers, Please should take a moral stance when engaging political issues, I mean that saying “X is bad!” is not enough in my eyes, and games of this sort should say “X is bad! Do something about it, and here is how!” They should leave you with the desire to change the world for the better and not let such dystopian scenarios come to pass, not with a feeling that all depicted problems are inherent in the system and it cannot ever be changed for the better.

          • Haplo says:

            I understand perfectly. That’s an insightful response. Thanks!

          • Kollega says:

            Thank you. I tried to spell out my view on dystopian games as clearly as I could, glad it worked.

  4. grrrz says:

    yeah sure, throw away all the complexity of the world and reduce it to a slogan, that’s not at all how a repressive government begins, and operates.

    • Llewyn says:

      I’m not sure that “Be Graham” is necessarily the sort of thing guaranteed to lead directly to totalitarianism. Although I’ll accept that it is a risk.

  5. Ashrand says:

    oh god, it IS actually about ethics in videogames journalism!

    I’ll get my coat…

  6. Chiron says:

    Welp, the Rebellion is now underway, however I managed to feel a rare moment of “Oh fuck…” for my virtual employees, they were talking about visiting the Parade, and now I’ll never know if they survived it.

    Will buy this I think

  7. jgf1123 says:

    Sounds a lot like Lucas Pope’s The Republica Times (link to dukope.com).

    • colw00t says:

      The opening paragraph of the article:

      The Westport Independent [official site] may well remind you of Lucas Pope’s dystopia-o-deskjob games Papers, Please and The Republia Times, which are fine games to be reminded of.