Developed by: Lucas Pope
Welcome to Day 04 of Half Hour of Power! After the brief detour yesterday, we’re back on schedule with Papers, Please. Now I’ve heard a lot about this title since it released some months ago and was extremely excited to finally sit down and play it. And I say excited from a purely developmentally minded standpoint. I knew going into this that the game wasn’t exactly “fun” in the traditional sense of the word. It bills itself as a “Dystopian Document Thriller” and that’s pretty damn accurate. However, multiple sources have lauded the experience surrounding the game, and though my brief 20 minutes with the game is paltry in comparison to how much time someone really should invest (as I will be doing after publishing this article), my takeaway from this game really was the experience as a whole. I know that sounds like a cop out of sorts, but let me elaborate a little.
Video games have the potential to be a fairly entertaining spectator sport. Call of Duty, Halo, League of Legends, even Madden or FIFA can be enjoyable to watch at the competitive, professional level. Papers, Please is most assuredly on the far-left end of the “pleasure to watch” spectrum, and yet my girlfriend was absolutely riveted watching me play. She usually watches when I play really story heavy games or games with an intriguing narrative, so naturally I assumed she’d be bored pretty quickly with Papers, Please. Instead I found that she acted as this oddly ancillary narrator of sorts and was deeply vested in the outcome of each of the four days that I played. When my family got sick she voiced sympathy and remorse (it helps that she’s naturally a very emotive person) and when I messed up on a passport a nasty quip of, “Don’t mess up or your family might die!” or “Hurry up so you can buy your son medicine!” ensued. Obviously, it’s not entirely fair to base a review of a game on circumstances unique to myself; yet, I would posit that Papers, Please’s most interesting mechanic is the unique experience it crafts with each player. Or, more importantly, the self-actualization a player undergoes as a result of that experience.
This guy was my favorite entrant. Look at that pro-tier passport.
As I said before, the gameplay isn’t “fun”, in fact, it’s quite boring, which I imagine a real passport checker in a nation hiding behind an Iron Curtain might be. But as I kept playing, and with each utterance from my girlfriend, I slowly began to realize what a completely bastard I am to everyone except my family. On the second day, my son got sick and I decided to pay for his medicine instead of feeding or heating the rest of the family. The next day everyone was sick and the rent went up. As I trudged through that fourth day, I realized that I had memorized some of the town names in order to expedite the check-in process and flippantly rejected a mother that hadn’t seen her son in six years because I wanted my family to have dinner that night and I needed to hurry to the next entrant. Say all you want about it being “just a game”, that was a pretty powerful moment in the narrative that, essentially, I was creating. Another situation occurred the previous day when I was racing the clock on my last immigrant. The horn rang out and I rejected him out of pure disgust because you don’t get paid for people checked in after six. What do I care if his passport was legitimate or not? It’s situations like these that craft such an intimate and moving story, which results in me wanting to come back for more.
Obviously, after several plays, I can imagine Papers, Please losing a little bit of it’s charm and it’s sense of urgency. Eventually, you’ll be playing it based on logic and reason, rather than any sort of emotion. You’ll know how long your family can survive without heat or food, or if you really need to give them medicine, and I would anticipate it turning into a bit of a “by the numbers” sort of game. However, with that being said, I can’t imagine that happening any time in the near future for my play and would absolutely recommend that anyone whom is interested in player-crafted narrative design and gameplay truly evocative of a person’s innermost self, to check out Papers, Please: posthaste.