Welcome to Arstotzka!
A Communist state that has ended its six year war with a neighboring country Kolechia, somewhere around 1981-1982. You have been chosen to be the Inspector at the new border checkpoint opening up in Grestin, a border town that is the centre of the volatile relationship between Kolechians and Arstotzkians. West Grestin is Kolechian and East Grestin is Arstotzkian. There are other countries too, Antegria, Impor, Obristan, Republia and United Federation.
This is the set-up for the game and, you might be excited for a game that ominously mirrors, perhaps, Berlin in 1961. This is also a well-timed game: it was released in August 2013- coinciding with the trade blockade against Ukraine in retaliation for the possible signing of an association agreement with the EU and as social and political unrest has begun creating barriers in our current society.
As the opening music starts and the title literally marches down the screen in a strange mashup of Star Wars and 1984, you get the overall feel of how sinister this game is. The music is dystopic, patriotic and jarring. The colours are bleak as you start the game and are introduced to your desk. Outside there is a line of downtrodden hopefuls; trying to get into Arstotzka, for family, a job or in transit. It’s your job to sort through them and make sure every one coming through has the correct paperwork.
^ The Inspectors Booth
At first this is easy, Day 1 and only Arstotzkian passport holders are allowed. But as more rules are put in place or more papers need to be filled out, the more stressful the game becomes. People who come into your booth tell you personal details, why they are here, who they are meeting, how thankful they are to finally make it here; but they also ask for help, be it letting them in without the correct papers, telling you to not let in somebody that is coercing them into prostitution or a married couple pleading to use the same entry permit.
The Arstotzkian Ministry of Admissions control over the inspector tightens as you finish your first day. After leaving work at 6, a screen appears showing you how much you earnt and what you need to pay. The rent ends up being the majority of what you spend and then you have to decide on what you want to spend the remainder of your money on: Heating, food or medicine for your family. If your family dies, the game ends. So, to look after your family, who are living in horrible conditions, you have to be a good inspector and not get any citations. If you get any citations for letting in persons with incorrect documentation that means your son might go hungry because you lost that money.
But there are 20 different endings to this game: This is not just a bleak reminder of what certain societies are like, this is also an ethically challenging game that confronts you with your own decision making. It also creates empathy for people who are working in societies/ for corporations like this, I think this shows real fear and real survival that people in our first world countries forget.
Papers, Please forces you to reduce the people coming through your booth to their paperwork, making the title very fitting. Of course this for the people you love, to keep them alive and well, but at what expense?