It’s almost impossible to describe what makes Papers, Please so special in a short window of time. Taken at face value, permitting/denying access to an imaginary Eastern Bloc country sounds like a boring, monotonous job. However, stepping into the booth by the border reveals a world of grey morality, deception and paycheck-to-paycheck survival.
The act of “processing” a potential visitor to Arstotzka is elevated by the fantastic interface. Everything has a very physical feel: you drag items of interest onto an examination table, cross-reference their papers with the rule book and notes for the day, and use bright green and red stamps to accept/deny entry. When discrepancies are detected, options from interrogation to full-body scans will appear. Sometimes they’ll forget to give you their worker’s passport and will promptly hand it over as soon as you ask. Occasionally, what starts as a simple question of gender escalates into a full-blown alert once the scanner reveals a handgun taped to the back of an innocent-looking citizen. The simplistic booth belies an astounding depth as Papers, Please continues to throw unexpected curveballs.
I don’t have time to go through each and every document with a fine-toothed comb, so I often eyeball their papers, smack the appropriate stamp and send them on their way, praying that a small error won’t dock my pay. I have no time for sob stories or bribes; if anything is out of order, I won’t hesitate to send someone packing. It’s a literal race against the clock, as the number of applicants I process determines my ability to pay my family’s bills. Rejection is easier to swallow when the person on the other side of the window simply gives me the stink eye or curses me out, but occasionally the cuts go deeper. I willingly separated a wife from her husband and allowed an evil smuggler to enter the country, where he murdered two defenseless girls who warned me about him beforehand. I could have theoretically used my two free excused mistakes per day to solve these issues (or act like a monster and save them for the actual mistakes), but I had already spent them on silly oversights like mismatched dates and the lack of a worker’s permit.
These decisions haunt me, but I’m not sure whether I would have chosen to do things differently. Permitting the wife or denying the smuggler would have cost me valuable credits used to keep my family healthy. Would they understand I did the right thing if we couldn’t eat or warm the house for the day? When the choice is between saving a life or saving my family, is there even a “right” path?
Everything mentioned here and more happened on the first week of the job; my life as an Arstotzkan border employee ramped up in surprising ways that I won’t dare spoil here. If you still aren’t convinced, a free beta version can be found here. For everyone else, report to your stations, cause no trouble, and glory to Arstotzka!