Papers, Please – the thrilling tedium of a dystopian bureaucracy
Papers, Please is by far one of the most unusually entertaining portrayals of what seems like an incredibly boring job. Solely developed by Lucas Pope, Papers, Please is a “dystopian document thriller” set in 1982 at The Ministry of Admission of Arstotzka, a fictional country beyond the iron curtain that has just ended a 6-year war with the neighbouring country Kolechia. The game centers around you as an immigration officer as you control the flow of immigrants, visitors and citizens travelling to Grestin via Kolechia.
Papers, Please‘s gameplay seems awfully tedious on the surface. You are given a cubicle where you must inspect the travel documents of dozens of potential illegal immigrants. A rules and regulations handbook is provided as a guideline for checking for conflicting information on travel documents. It includes a list of all neighbouring countries, their respective passport issuing regions, what permit stamps are supposed to look like and other objective references. All work is done manually with what an immigration officer would have in 1982; nothing but his own observational awareness coupled some good old fashion knowledge of red tape.
Due to the all the heated conflict within the region, extremely shady people with falsified documents or even intentions to bomb the country attempt to con their way past the Arstozkan border. So it’s not always a matter of checking if a passport is expired. For example, in special cases that involve questionable identity, you have to cross-reference fingerprints and you have to do them manually. You might also have to do a full body search in case those degenerate Kolechians attempt to suicide bomb the country again.
What Papers, Please does well is how it carries out the heavily socialist atmosphere. What is known about Arstotzkan culture is revealed every so subtly by simply reading between the lines – the propaganda, the bleak and almost monochromatic environment, the Metropole-esque language, the anthem style soundtrack, the grim and hopeless look on each illegal immigrants’ face – it all contributes to the whole Soviet dystopian ambiance.
Some of the travelers that attempt to pass through can be quite interesting as well. At one point, a man with completely legitimate documents who has been let into the country asked me to be nice to his wife who was in line after him. She revealed that her husband was granted asylum from their war-torn country of Kolechia but she was denied a travelers pass. She begged me to let her through lest she returns to her country and get killed. All she wants is to start a new life with her husband in the glorious and free country of Arstotzka but I have a family and they are sick and hungry. Doesn’t she know that the Ministry of Admissions will cut my salary if I violate protocol? How will I feed my wife? How will I buy medicine for my child? It is cold in glorious Arstotzka, my mother-in-law and uncle are freezing. How will I pay for the heating? ENTRY DENIED.
Papers, Please hasn’t been approved yet on Steam Greenlight. Despite being very early in the beta stage, the game delivers a very strange yet entertaining experience I’ve never come across ever before. I don’t think I’ve ever been this excited to see the official release of a game about… stamping documents.
Different builds of Papers, Please is available for free on Lucas Pope’s website. I highly recommend checking out the latest beta build.