I’m not sure why, but I have a soft spot in my heart for video games that appeal to the art lover in me. I guess I’m more of a fan of games that tell a story (even a simple one) over your typical First Person Shooter or hardcore puzzle game. That’s why I heard a lot of interesting things about an indie game that came out last year called Papers, Please.
This game is fairly straightforward on the surface. You play a border checkpoint inspector in the fictional Soviet bloc country of Arstotzka. Over the course of several days, you inspect a quota of immigrants attempting to cross the border into the neighboring country. Each immigrant has a passport to inspect, along with the potential for bribes and threats. As an inspector, you have the option to follow your orders and provide for your family, to be sympathetic to those in need, or to support a terror cell’s efforts to overthrow the government. It all depends on who you choose to let pass and who you don’t.
The gameplay itself is very simplistic, albeit immersive into the fictional world of Arstotzka. The muted grays and browns fit nicely with the dour soundtrack. You feel the crushing weight of a checkpoint inspector’s job resting on your shoulders as you play; much like the man in the booth, you want to simply earn points for your family and get through the day as fast as you can.
Checking through passports makes for an odd little puzzle, having to search through every line of text, every photo, and every bit of dialogue available. One bad decision gets you a demerit. A few more earns you penalties, plus the chance of screwing up and being responsible for a terrorist attack.
However, as much as I wanted to enjoy this game for its political vibes and its indie flair, I just couldn’t commit. At no point was I entertained or intellectually engaged. My day job already consists of me sitting at a desk trying to meet my daily quota. I don’t exactly need a game that offers me the same experience, but with twenty times more soul-crushing despair.
I’ll give Papers, Please some credit for its appeal as a political game and its demand on the player’s ability to read and think critically. But it’s got nothing for me to sink my teeth into. It’s small, sad, and bleak and I’ve no interest in spending time in Arstotzka anymore than the little NPCs wish to.
Papers. Please is available for purchase and download through Steam and the official website.
Bibliography: Papers, Please. Developed by Lucas Pope. Microsoft Windows, OS X. Original release: August 8, 2013.