Identity & Politics: Papers, Please

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Developed by Lucas Pope games, Papers, Please is one of those games that leaves you feeling horrible. Growing up in a place like Arizona puts immigration into a real perspective, and when Papers Please came out, I found myself looking at it first through the scope of a gamer and then through the scope of a citizen. Now, Arstotzka is a distant from where we are in America, but it is by no means too far from comprehension. Immigration today is a very real political issue, and putting it in the scope of a video game both gives you distance from the game as well as perspective.

In Papers, Please, you play the game as a male immigration inspector, and the gameplay revolves around looking at various documents to check if each immigrant has the correct documents and stamps needed to enter the country. The object of the game is to get as many people through, since the protagonist is paid by the number of people he lets in. By the end of the day, his income must support his uncle, mother-in-law, wife, and son, as well as the rent, heat, and food. If any of these are neglected, your family will get sick.

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Initially the game is simple, and the concept is quick to catch on, but as more protocols are made and more details are necessary, the player is more prone to mistakes. These mistakes ultimately cost the protagonist. With so many factors already in play, the game then also brings in a plot of a secret organization plotting to bring down the corrupt leaders of Arstotzka.

The game puts into perspective the job of someone in a government position like the one that you play. On one hand you have to keep your eye on the prize and remember that you need to feed your family, on the other hand you begin to feel sympathy for characters who have become victims of the system and therefore are being manipulated by the policies of the country.

Since you are the inspector, you can choose to let in terrorists or illegal immigrants who don’t have the right papers. This comes at a price for your own paycheck, but the decisions you make in the game also can lead you to one of the thirty-something endings that are possible.

The choice that you make on whether you decide to help a secret organization throws a point of interest into the game that forces you to react. If you choose to help the organization that you know little to nothing about just because you have seen how cruel Arstotzka can be, the repercussions are not overt but everything has a price. Politics play a major role in the game, and every morning you are presented with a newspaper that tells you the rumors and the current events. The office’s own rules change with the news, and through the identity of the inspector the game is made into a political statement.

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The game is a simple concept that requires a good memory, but ultimately forces the player to make ethical and unethical decisions. Making hard decisions like detaining someone is a reality in the game, as is racial profiling and government manipulation.

I think this is a great game that both politically challenges a person, while at the same time distancing the player because of the dystopian setting. The intriguing endings makes every decision you make vital to your story.

Pick up the game here and check it out for yourself!

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