In his first Twine, developer Ian Burnette focuses on what the Internet has threatened but has yet to kill: print journalism. If nothing else, Newspaper Quest is very fun to click through. Underneath the simplicity and humor, however, is biting commentary on online content consumption and creation.
Newspaper Quest simulates a leisurely day of home activities, including reading a newspaper. At first, I failed to see the point of reading newspaper stories and cutting them out and eating them. But once you allow time to pass and return to the sections you have eaten, you’ll find that you are changing the stories and, in effect, impacting the world. The stories involve everything from politics to technology to movies. Consuming one particular article has a morbidly hilarious result that speaks to the danger of inventing reality.
The great irony of Newspaper Quest is that the player can change the content of a media form that we think of as relatively permanent. In real life, people cut out newspaper articles to remember events that happened on specific dates; in Newspaper Quest, you cut out articles to change history. Consider that Twine audiences are probably more likely to consume online content than read a newspaper, and you can begin to see what makes Newspaper Quest a brilliant deconstruction of online media.
Specifically, Newspaper Quest addresses the postmodern ability of instantly shaping perceptions of reality. In the game, your “edits” require a short passage of time during the “day” – perhaps not as instantaneous as some Twitter mobs, but certainly faster than how journalism operated in the print era. Traditionally, for example, a factual correction would appear in the next edition of a newspaper, which would take as long as a day to produce, if not a week or more (depending on the publication). Newspaper Quest recognizes that this deliberate pace no longer makes sense in the virtual world of self-publishing, editable pages, and hashtags.
The complete reversal of facts in Newspaper Quest provides a witty parallel to how information and, thus, perception are manipulated in online media. Speculation retweeted by people you respect can appear as fact. A recently edited Wikipedia entry can become fact. A message can be presented in such a way that anyone can become the target of hundreds of angry individuals within an hour. The reversal of facts in Newspaper Quest only seems silly as a fantasy of print media. As a parallel to online media, the joke really hits home.
Newspaper Quest’s comedy of daily media manipulation bears the truthful sting of humor. The game’s denouement isn’t an exaggeration: some people have trouble sleeping due to how quickly the reality about them, as individuals, can be shaped online. A postmodern doomsday scenario is all of us waking up to so many different claims about reality that daily pleasures, such as gardening and eating, offer little respite. In one sense, Ian Burnette has crafted a fun Twine about the stories we want to see. In another, Newspaper Quest reflects the often funny, often disastrous consequences of a constant flow of online content.
Jed Pressgrove is a games criticism writer for his site, Game Bias, where you can check out more of his stuff.