Papers, Please

By James Cook on September 6th, 2013

My mother-in-law is sick. For two days I haven’t been able to afford heating for my apartment. The men and women I’ve illegally allowed through the border crossing have been thankful, but they can’t give me money to repay the fines I get for shirking the rules. Papers, Please is a game that will challenge and stretch your morals, through the medium of paperwork.

The queue of people wishing to enter the fictional communist state of Arstotzka snakes around the newly-opened border crossing. The year is 1983 and Papers, Please puts you in the role of a border crossing guard tasked with enforcing the strict rules regarding who can and can’t enter the glorious country of Arstotzka.

Papers Please screenshot

The game starts out relatively simply: You have some basic rules (no foreigners, passport must match entry ticket) but the requirements you need to meet quickly spiral out of control. Body scans, fingerprints, ID cards and diplomatic passes all start to clutter your tiny window for holding paperwork.

A sense of urgency comes from the fact that you get paid for every person you let through correctly. Turn someone away and you risk losing money, but let someone through who you shouldn’t have, and you risk a penalty fare, or a terrorist attack.

Papers, Please $9.99 for Windows and Mac

It’s the decisions you make that define Papers, Please. The first time that the game forced me to choose was when a man gratefully thanked me for allowing him through, and told me that his wife was next in line. They were coming to live in the country, but she didn’t have the correct papers.

Should I decline her visa and move on, or bend the rules and let her in, granting her a new life, but receiving a penalty from my vigilant overseers? I let her through, stamping her passport with a green “ENTRY APPROVED” stamp. The penalty fare arrived, just after she had given me a piece of her jewellery to thank me.

Papers, Please is an indie game that dares to do something radically different. The art style and writing perfectly complements the game’s 1980s Soviet setting. And as the days roll on, a larger plot starts to influence your decisions. Beyond the paperwork and entry stamps, you’re made aware that your actions have real-life consequences. Rarely has a game made me stop and think about every mouse click.