That’s what the man at the Arstozka border checkpoint asked everyone who came to his window. It didn’t matter if the person was an Arstozka native or a foreigner, they all had to present their papers. This simple request was the jumping off point for one of the most organic and fascinating adventure games I ever played.
Working as a border crossing agent wasn’t the most glamorous job in the world. I ask for the paper work and make sure they were in order. If they were not, I stamp a rejection on their passports and sent them packing. If their papers appeared fine, it’s the green stamp and best wishes.
Forgeries, change of policies and a myriad of other details made my life difficult. The goal was to process as many people as humanly possible without infractions but when terrorist attacks and tensions rose, new rules and regulations followed which added several precious seconds of inspection for each person.
Additional layers of inspections made my job more difficult. My desk was not very spacious, so when Arstozka upped the paperwork requirement, things became increasingly cumbersome. I was impressed with how the game layered on these bureaucratic complexities without making them seem out of place. Then when terrorists/rebels began delivering decoders and secret messages, I knew I was involved with something incredible.
The objective of Papers, Please was to earn money for my family but how I earned it was up to me. I could play it straight and followed the rules to the letter but that ended up burning me in the end. Careful navigation through moral dilemmas was required to keep my job but that often meant I had to bend the rules. Was I comfortable with detaining every offender regardless of the severity of their offence just so I could earn bonus cash?
Why was I trying to earn this cash though? I didn’t know anything about this “family” of mine beyond a few lines of text. I didn’t get to see them which could be an accurate simulation of the hard working agent who barely spends time with this family; he just works and works. It required unconditional love or just the desire to win the game.
Was I trying to just win or empathize? What would I do if I was put in the situations presented in Papers, Please? I started to play to win but without realizing it, I was making decisions as myself and not just to win. I was making these decisions without dialog trees or other obvious tells. Nothing was black or white.
Through late 1980’s garb and old school pixel art, Lucas Pope’s Papers, Please successfully immersed me in the world of the border crossing agent. It may not seem like the most appealing subject but I urge everyone to give it a shot and witness the magic of mechanics driven immersion.
For more information on Papers, Please, visit the official website.