Every day is exactly the same. “Papers, please.” She slides her papers to me – hopefully all of them. I look at her passport. I check the Entry Permit. I validate her Work Pass. I verify her Certificate of Vaccination. I compare the papers, looking for discrepancies. Just when I’m about to approve her for entrance to Arstotzka, I realize her Work Pass expires before her Entry Permit. She seems so sincere about it being a mistake that I’m torn; for her sake, I want to grant her entry, but I’ll get fined if I do, and I desperately need money. Putting my own well-being first, I could deny her entry.
But if I’m going to think of myself, I could have her detained. I get a kickback when I detain people.
Choices like this are the crux of Papers, Please by Lucas Pope. You’re awarded a job as an immigration inspector in the labor lottery. While the job starts simply with only a few pieces of information, the rules become more complex as political tensions grow.
Do you look out for your self and family, uphold the ideals of Arstotzka, or work to undermine the totalitarian government? Papers, Please is filled with fascinating moral choices. Unlike most games that have choices that either don’t matter or are quite obvious, you’re presented here with ambiguous situations. Is it right to let a suspected sex trafficker into Arstotzka if his papers are in order? If he really is a sex trafficker and you grant him entry, you’re harming people. If you deny him entrance, you help people, but you get fined, and you desperately need money. And what if he’s not really a sex trafficker at all? It’s scary to me to think that real people have to make decisions like these every day. By playing Papers, Please, it gives you perspective on how one becomes so complicit under a corrupt government. The job seems so dull but can have vast impact. And as you mundanely follow your orders, just being a good citizen, you allow corruption to spread.
While it sounds like such a simple game, Papers, Please has an exciting story with many endings. With so much ambiguity, I don’t even want to talk about the major story branches of the game, but there are some drastically different turns with a handful of successful (albeit very different) endings and a multitude of failures. After beating the game, you also unlock the endless mode, which didn’t interest me as much.
Papers, Please has been one of my favorite games since I first played it. I sunk more than 40 hours into it and earned all the achievements. Writing about games isn’t very difficult, but writing about games I love is. It’s hard to do the great games justice. (Note the lack of a post on Portal.) However, it seems appropriate that my 100th published post on this site is about a game I truly love.
Glory to Arstotzka.