Written by Nils Schofer
“What is the purpose of your visit?”
“I come to visit my son”
“How long do you plan on staying”
“Your entry ticket has expired”
“What? But I bought ticket yesterday”
“The ticket is invalid”
“Please sir, I have not seen my son in years”
“I am sorry but I cannot allow you in with an expired entry ticket. Have a nice day and Glory to Aristoska . Next!”
This was only one of the typical interactions that I experienced while playing Papers Please, an indie game developed by Lucas Pope. The game “Papers Please” is set in the fictional state of Aristoska, a communist country that has ended a six year war with its neighboring country Kolechia. In the game, the player has been randomly selected to become the new immigration inspector at the Kolechia-Aristoska border with the goal of controlling the flow of immigrants into Aristoska. Meanwhile he also has to maintain a family with limited financial means. As the game progresses, the challenges become harder as smugglers, criminals, and even terrorists attempt to cross the border, causing new regulations to be implemented. Thus the passport inspection process becomes longer and more tedious. The player is also confronted on multiple occasions with moral dilemmas and forced to decide whether or not to help someone in need, sometimes at the risk of his or her own career.
The game is very simple to play. A person approaches the passport booth and places papers on the desk, which the player must examine for any discrepancies. Upon finding one, the player interrogates the applicant about the discrepancy and decides whether to admit or deny the person entry into the country. As the game progresses, the player is given the ability to scan people for contraband, force them to take finger print tests, and even detain suspicious individuals. At the end of the work day, the player is paid based on the amount of people correctly checked, minus penalties for incorrectly denying or allowing people into the country. The player must then pay for heat, food, and medicine for his or her family. This gives the player an incentive to check as many people as possible per day while also checking them well.
While some may criticize the game for not containing next generation graphics, the semi-pixilated grey art style of the game fits the mood of the sad reality it portrays. The music also fits the mood of the game perfectly, with its slow-paced rhythm and heavy beat. The main theme of the game, in particular, sounds like a marching tune that helps to set the scene of a dystopian post-war communist country.
Overall, “Papers Please” is an amazing game. The gameplay is simple and effective, the appearance of the game matches the sad mood the game aims to portray, and the player must use perceptive skills effectively for the game to progress. Additionally, the decisions in “Papers Please” have real life implications. Bad decisions lead to serious consequences, and even “good” ones can have serious costs for the player. Although much in the game is slightly exaggerated, the world it portrays is real enough to make it an effective training tool for real border control personnel, or just help individuals become more sensitive to the difficult decisions such officers must face on a daily basis.