Impressions: Papers, Please (Beta)

It’s like a desk job, but worse.
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Much like everyone else, I really, really hate the TSA. Traveling has become a burden of technicalities and seriousness, made worse by the gnawing fear that somehow somewhere along the ling you’ve forgotten something essential. Papers, Please from developer Lucas Pope which is still in development (currently in Beta) is a look into the other side of things.

You play as an immigrations officer, protecting the border of the depressing communist state of Arstotzka. People come up to you, give you their papers, and your sole job is to make sure that everything is in order. If they aren’t, you give them a big red DENIED stamp and send them on their way. Additionally, if you give someone a green go-ahead stamp that shouldn’t have gotten it you will be given a citation from your supervisors. Each day you get two freebie mistakes, but any more and you’ll lose pay — which is what you need to feed, heat, and house your family.

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In many ways, Papers, Please is an exercise in tedium. Perhaps the most astounding aspect of the game is how well it replicates a boring day job. You receive papers, you look at papers, you stamp papers, you give back papers. You get paid based on how many immigrants you get through in a day, so there is an impetus to be somewhat quick about it. At first, this isn’t entirely difficult. Your first day of work you’re only letting in people who are citizens of your country, and so long as they have their passport (and it isn’t expired) there isn’t much to actually inspect. The next day, they decide foreigners in. Yet gradually, the papers required increase and by the end of it, you’re searching through entry permits, work permits, asking for the purpose and duration of people’s stay, taking fingerprints, and even giving people full body scans.

All of these documents aren’t entirely pointless, either. Arzstotka suffers terrorist atacks, enemy spies and smugglers and the intense regulation doesn’t occur until a terrorist attack cuts your day short. But this regulation also means that people with a desperate need to get into the country aren’t able to. A man passes through your gate. All of his papers are in order and you give him a green stamp. He tells you as he walks out to watch for his wife right behind him, they are immigrating together. The wife comes along. She gives you her passport. But you need an entry permit, too, which she doesn’t have. You can stamp her in, but you’ll lose pay and get a citation.

I denied her. I needed the money. Rent had just gone up.

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There are other moral quandaries presented in the game. Do you deny a man with all the proper papers entrance because a woman told you he might force her into a brothel? Do you let in the woman who is so obviously bewildered by your country’s ever-increasing regulations? What about the man with a typo-ed name on his passport? What about the woman who misspoke about her purpose in coming to Arstotzka?

Papers, Please is an engrossing experience precisely because it puts you on the other side of what is normally an intimidating and frustrating experience. And it turns out it’s not much better. To every person I denied, I simply wanted to say, “Just doing my job.” Some people tell you to go to hell. Some people just walk off silently. But just a few days ago you let in a suicide bomber. Any of these people could be one. This, you tell yourself, is necessary.

Moreover, there’s nothing you can do. Your errors will cited, some small heroism met with docked pay and no heat. You are, essentially, a desk jockey. You do nothing but look at paperwork. It’s the kind of tedious, boring job that should be reserved for people under fluorescent lighting. But this isn’t the case. You have to look at the people whose lives you could be ruining.

One girl said she would die if she didn’t get into the country.

She didn’t have a permit.

You can download Papers, Please directly from the developer for free Here.

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