‘Papers, please,’ you say to her in the kind of monotonous voice you’d get from Centrelink assistants. She’s been waiting for probably hours. Her eyes are heavy but her expression evolves into a hopeful smile.
‘Finally, I am free,’ she says as she hands you her mandatory papers. You silently nod at her remark and do what you have been doing for the past week: stare at the papers until something odd crawls out. Name. Check. Weight. Check. Expiry Date. Check.
Document Seal. Uh oh.
You point out the inconsistency of this seal and inquire her about it, again in a voice that could make ice shiver. ‘I-I don’t know,’ says she. ‘Please, I can’t go back. They’ll kill me.’ She begs. She has no money to bribe. Her life and her future depended on her papers and now it wiggles in the palms of your mercy.
The clock ticks. You are paid by the number of humans processed. Your family is sick and hungry. She is a mere person you became acquainted with two minutes ago, and yet …
Pull out your stamps, you. Denied. Approved. Stamp a fate.
Papers, Please is a game in the sense that listening to lectures is like listening to music. Lectures themselves are usually boring, and likewise, the main action of Papers, Please, that being the gameplay, is pathetic. It is miniscule, annoying, yet vital. You look through papers given by each poor soul and highlight the discrepancies. The difference between ‘Spot the Difference’ and this is that the goal is different. You are hoping that they don’t have discrepancies, so it is easier to process and move on. Thus, the enjoyment you receive in this game is much akin to the feeling you get when you prove someone wrong and shout ‘OBJECTION’ with your pointing finger up his or her nose.
Where the game shines, however, is in the atmosphere. Like a Nintendo game, the background settings exist for the sake of idolising the gameplay. The graphics are simplistic and the style exudes of 1980s communism, while the lack of sound allows you to focus but makes you feel lonely at the same time. The plot, if you can make sense of it, has the whole game hinging on the tantalising characters and your contribution to their fate. Essentially, it’s a game about choice, but there are no obvious moral grounds such as Bioware’s pitiful morality system or Telltale’s convoluted storytelling devices. Instead, choices, when they arrive, have two layers – the obvious being ‘Do you help this person?’ but the more subtle being ‘How long do I have?’. Each day is timed and each discrepancy then can take extra time to process, and you are paid for each human processed. Thus every choice then becomes more personal. Do you not ask for a missing document because he forgot to hand it to you so that you can process more people, in turn earning more money for your family, or do you give everyone a chance? When someone in a dire situation comes, do you allow her or refuse her so that you have extra money for your family? There’s no such thing as a ‘wrong’ answer, just perspectives. Though I must confess, it is fun to detain someone because they forgot a document.
Papers, Please is a great arsenal to anyone. Granted, it’s not a game to play if you want to relax, but it does give you a decision-making power whereby your decisions actually matter due to time constraints and how brisk they are. However, there will be people who will ‘get’ this game or who will not ‘get’ this game, as the constraints, the moral decision making, and the timed activities may overwhelm and hinder their experience. But you should give it a try.
Developer: Pope, Lucas