Why Papers, Please is My Game of the Year

I wait anxiously as I watch the immigrant walk out of my booth and into my native country of Arstotzka. I had crossed referenced her passport with her entry permit and made sure her vaccinations were up to date. Double checked that the passport and entry permit numbers synced up. I was confident that I did I thorough job, but with Papers, Please you never know. *Click, click, click* the sound of the typewriter makes my heart drop. “Damnit!” I yell out loud. “What did I miss? What did I miss?!?!” A paper scrolls up onto my screen stating, “M.O.A. citation: Protocol Violated. Invalid expiration date. Warning Issued – No penalty.” I wipe my brow. The expiration date? How could I miss that? I regain my composure, one more stupid mistake like that will take out of my paycheck and could be the difference between my family having food and heat for the day.

Papers, Please is chalk full of these stressful moments. I can’t even begin to count how many times I yelled at my computer in disbelief. Because of this, I have never played a more rewarding game in my life. Nothing is more satisfying than noticing a small discrepancy in the numerous documents presented. When I look at an immigrant’s identification card and notice the height listed doesn’t quite match up with the woman standing in front of me. When I ask the lady about the difference she immediately tells me she’s wearing different shoes. We’ll see, I take her fingerprints and compare them with the ones on her identification supplement, another discrepancy is detected, the prints don’t match up. I question again, and she tells me she doesn’t know what I’m talking about. I take out my stamp, push it down on her passport and read the “Entry Denied” inked in bright red and hand it back to her. She exits out to my left back to wherever she came from, just happy that I decided not to call the guards in to detain her.

You won’t find any game quite like Papers, Please on the market. It takes the blandness of an immigration inspector and makes it something more. The game is far from black and white either, some immigrants that you encounter tell a story. One man tells me as I look over his documents that his wife will be coming through soon and even though his papers are in order his wife’s are not. He begs me to let her through. When she finally finds her way into my booth I then have the choice. Do I let her through to go to her loving husband and receive a citation that could cost me precious money? Or do I deny her for her false papers and send her on her way, earning me a little more money to support my family? Little story arcs like this give Papers, Please personality and really make it feel like more than just a game.

The environment only adds to the games grim atmosphere. You live in a totalitarian communist state known as Arstotzka who has just ended a 6 year war with neighboring country Kolechia. Your immigration booth is in a border town known as Grestin split in half between the two countries. Sound familiar? This cold war-esque habitat only adds to the story as many of the immigrants that you can let in are a mixture of spies, smugglers, and terrorists. And don’t think that some won’t bribe you to let them or a friend through, just another choice you get to make. With these choices comes different endings, 20 in all. The endings can range from completely dire to hopeful in scope. Just one thing you do, on purpose or not, can end the game in a way you may see as premature.

Papers, Please is my game of the year. It didn’t have millions of dollars in advertising, hundreds of people working on it (in fact only one person did most of the work), and every website covering it’s every press release.  Perhaps part of the game’s charm is its surprise. 6 months ago, very little people had any idea what the game even was. It also has a simple art style that not only tells a specific story, but lets almost any gamer with a running computer play it. I’ve never experienced anything like Papers, Please, and it’s a game that I’ll think about for a very long time.