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The Westport Independent review: It's about ethics in journalism

Hayden Dingman | Jan. 25, 2016
But it's not exactly subtle.

Of late, there’s been a lot of talk about “Objectivity” in journalism—whether such a thing exists, and whether it’s even important. Some go so far as to say there can be no truly objective journalism. I recommend reading Matt Taibbi’s retrospective on Jon Stewart if you find this topic at all interesting (as opposed to shamefully navel-gazing).

But to summarize: Every choice a writer makes, be it diction or headline or snide joke or lede paragraph, has an impact on framing. And how they make those choices is informed by a literal lifetime of experiences. Of biases.

The Westport Independent

Some people argue it’s the goal of impartiality that’s important but...well, I disagree. Full disclosure. Personally I think it’s more useful to be open and honest about my own biases when they come into play—to me, that’s the fairest way to alert readers to whether there’s a personal factor. Myst was one of my earliest video game memories, ergo I have fond feelings towards Myst. That sort of thing.

Highlighting the fact that journalists have these biases, that they can potentially influence coverage and thus influence whole populations of people, that’s the interesting point behind The Westport Independent’s “censorship simulator.”

Glory to Westport

The problem is The Westport Independent has all the subtlety of a brick through a window (probably thrown by a rebel sympathizer).

Comparisons with Lucas Pope’s Papers, Please are inevitable, given the two share the same lo-fi dictator aesthetic. But it’s another Pope project, Republia Times, next to which The Westport Independent looks most conspicuous.

The Westport Independent

Republia Times also dealt with journalism under a dictator, although it took different form. There you were mostly concerned with where to place each story—an aspect that makes up only one small portion of The Westport Independent.

In other words, The Westport Independent is like a fleshed-out version of Republia Times. And I don’t begrudge them that. Either they knew about Pope’s project beforehand or they didn’t, and it doesn’t really matter.

The problem I have with The Westport Independent is it falls into a trap I typically call “Save a Baby/Eat a Baby.” It’s a pretty common issue, particularly in video games. You’re ostensibly presented with a choice, but the options are so extreme (i.e. The Obvious Good Thing and The Obvious Bad Thing) that it ends up feeling like no choice at all. Some other game examples: Knights of the Old Republic, Fallout 3, Fable, InFamous.

Herein lies The Westport Independent’s greatest failure. Where Papers, Please often had me questioning my own values in a world of moral ambiguity, your options in The Westport Independent are pretty much “Side with Hitler” or “Don’t side with Hitler.”


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