Review: The Republia Times (2012)

Many moons ago, I reviewed the original Crisis in the Kremlin (1991) and its 2017 re-make. Then I did The ReDistricting Game (2007), the availability of which has, alas, suffered with the demise of Flash. Time for a review of another amusingly political video-game: The Republia Times.

As a background, The Republia Times was created by the same developer responsible for the more famous Papers Please. It’s a short and simple free-to-play browser game, where you get to play a newspaper editor in an authoritarian state in the middle of a civil war.

While its simplicity ultimately limits its game-play value – to be fair, it was developed in a mere forty-eight hours – The Republia Times manages a lot at the thematic level. On the surface, all you have to do as editor is choose which stories out of a news-feed menu to publish… a mere matter of clicking and dragging. The trick is deciding which stories, since your choices impact the Government’s popularity, as well as the readership of your newspaper. In each case, you need to ask yourself – “does this article make the incumbent Government look good or bad?”, since you can make the Government look very good or very bad, using exactly the same initial menu.

Remember that you work in an authoritarian state, and as such are extremely expendable. However, also remember that there is a civil war going on, so your newspaper has a certain importance – and mid-way through the game, you get rebels turning up, asking for your help.

There are a number of thematic points at work:

(i) The media choosing to run – or not to run – stories produces a completely different political narrative, depending on their goals. The articles they don’t run are every bit as important as the articles they do.

(ii) To be effective, propaganda has to be balanced with some public incentive to actually consume the media. In this case, that means including sports stories, celebrity fluff, and weather reports.

(iii) Depending on whether you choose to help or rebuff the rebels, you will encounter a brutally cynical twist – which I will not spoil here, but which has the effect of imposing limits on the individual’s ability to really change anything.

In a nutshell, The Republia Times is an exploration of media power and its limits. It’s pretty deep stuff for a game developed in two days, and whose mechanics merely involve clicking and dragging. It’s also a good deal more cynical than Papers Please, which really says something. On the other hand, once you have grasped its point, there is little re-play value, except when you’re running a self-imposed challenge.

You can play it for yourself here:

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