April 19, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

A Censorship Simulator and Lesson | “Westport Independent”

Get the latest SLJ reviews every month, subscribe today and save up to 35%.

For educators looking for a multimedia approach to teaching about censorship, Westport Independent may be just the platform. Before incorporating this simulator into lesson plans, be sure to read Sara Lissa Paulson’s review; the app is not for the “politically squeamish.” A Game Guide to the Westport Independent is also available, as are a number of videos on how to play.


Westport Independent (Coffee Stain Studios, iOS, $4.99; Android, $4.99, PC, Mac, Steam, Linux; Gr 9 Up) is no longer an independent newspaper. The year is 1949. Players are informed by a flickering black-and-white newsreel that announces the Public Culture bill has just passed, requiring all independent newspapers to toe the Loyalist government’s line and diminish rebel sympathies. In this lo-fi, dot matrix–inspired post-war universe, the gamer’s role is that of a news editor in an economically stratified industrial city, who oversees a handful of journalists. Players operate from an aerial view of the editor’s desk: there is mail from both rebels and government, and a file of articles to choose from to assign to writers. Decisions involved include what articles to give to which journalists to copyedit, where to place the article in the paper, and what headlines to print to create different readership outcomes. Gamers can play by the rules and bolster the Loyalists’ regime, or support the rebels’ causes, or avoid politics altogether by focusing on movie star gossip, trying to please the various regions and populations in Westport (profiles available).

Consequences are dire. In deviation of the task, journalists are dismissed. The effects of the layout and popularity of the paper as consequences of player’s decisions are not entirely clear, though seemingly important, which does detract somewhat from the work at hand. Students will remember this experience, which is part of the pull for the gamification of educational content. While a compelling hook for discussing the past and prevailing assaults on access to accurate information, it is not for the politically squeamish: the most charged content is the image of a lynched policeman with the sign, “Censor this!” at one of the conclusions of the game. Though limited in scope to 12 weeks, it could be used in the classroom or library as a memorable one-day lesson in a unit on totalitarianism and propaganda and could be followed by the award-winning Papers, Please (Lucas Pope, 2013), a similarly toned game in which players become immigration inspectors. There is a trailer here.— Sara Lissa Paulson, City-As-School, New York City


Screen from Westport Independent (Coffee Stain)

Screen from Westport Independent (Coffee Stain Studios)

For additional app reviews, visit School Library Journal‘s dedicated app webpage.

Curriculum Connections

This article was featured in our free Curriculum Connections enewsletter.
Subscribe today to have more articles like this delivered to you every month.

Daryl Grabarek About Daryl Grabarek

Daryl Grabarek dgrabarek@mediasourceinc.com is the editor of School Library Journal's monthly enewsletter, Curriculum Connections, and its online column Touch and Go. Before coming to SLJ, she held librarian positions in private, school, public, and college libraries. Her dream is to manage a collection on a remote island in the South Pacific.

Facts Matter: Information Literacy for the Real World
Libraries and news organizations are joining forces in a variety of ways to promote news literacy, create innovative community programming, and help patrons/students identify misinformation. This online course will teach you how to partner with local news organizations to promote news literacy through a range of programs—including a citizen journalism hub at your library.