How arresting can a game about protecting your country’s borders through paperwork and policy really be? In the case of Papers, Please, you’d be surprised. Taking the role of an immigration officer, it’s your job to sort through visas, work permits and all matter of paperwork to separate law-abiding citizen from potential threat. The game is still in development and available only as an unfinished demo, but it’s already causing intrigue. The experience speaks for itself and I encourage you to try yourself – but if you need convincing, then read on to find out just how engaging a job simulator can be.
On the macro scale, the conflict is about repelling those who have no legal right to be in your beloved country of Arstotzka – not to mention those who actively wish to do the country harm. But on the micro scale, things are more personal – you’re just some guy who is trying to keep a job and support your family. Sure, your family is only represented as text at the end of level results screen, but when you start choosing to forego food so that you can buy medicine, the situation starts to feel dire.
This is why the moments of conscience are so striking. At times the faces just fly by as you quickly sort through their paperwork and send them on their way – but then a polite man with perfect paperwork tells you to be kind to his wife who is in the line behind him. At first glance the wife appears to check out, but then you notice her visa has expired by a couple of months. What do you do? Look after their family or your own? And beyond that, perhaps this couple are not so innocent after all. What if you get it wrong?
Of the many elements deserving praise in this promising game, the physicality of the actions deserves a special mention. You have a small desk space on which you need to sort and compare paperwork, dragging it around the screen. When you stamp a visa – approved or otherwise – you have to drag it underneath the stamp and then click again to stamp it before returning every single document individually. Just like when you pass a team member an extra helping die when playing the tabletop RPG Mouse Guard, there’s something to be said for an element of physicality in games, however subtle. After a few in-game days of doing this, those papers begin to have real weight in more ways than one.
Papers, Please looks to be a provocative and timely game, if this in-progress demo is anything to go by. There’s no set release date just yet (though some sources say sometime this winter), but why not try the demo for yourself and show your support for the game over on Project Greenlight. Until then, have your paperwork ready.
Update: The full game of Papers Please is out now and available here.