I have no job, so I play Papers Please

I find most jobs to be soul-crushing endeavors where you are enslaved by a soulless entity that uses menial tasks and a pittance to lull you into a semi-conscious state so it may further oppress you.

Being a struggling actor/writer, I don’t have a job where I can experience those things. Instead, I forked over about $8 – or one hour’s pay as a minimum-wage employee, pre-tax – to get Papers Please, an amazingly original and captivating indie game on Steam.


Soldiers detain one, but dozens more are waiting

You see, Papers Please finds you “winning” a lottery to work the newly-opened border checkpoint of Arstotzka. Every shift, your primary duty is to check the identification of would-be entrants and ensure only those meant to come in are admitted.

The work is easy at first, as any foreigner is to be turned away. But as days go by, new edicts need to be assimilated and new regulations are introduced seemingly to confound you. Kolechians may be barred. An X-ray machine will help you find contraband or determine gender (leaving you feeling like a TSA agent). You may even have to wield a weapon to defend the border against runners.


How my desk usually looks

The stress doesn’t end when your shift is over. If you’ve been less than perfect, penalties will dock your already-meager salary. And you’ve got 4 other mouths to feed, heat, and keep healthy. This means you may seriously consider bribes, especially when they’re combined with sympathetic causes. Or you may consider letting your dear old uncle move on to a better place.

After every person I let through, I’d wait with bated breath to see if I did the right thing. Your counter only has so much space, and it’s going to be full with regulation manuals, wanted posters, business cards, and maybe even decoders for a secret society who wants to change things (hopefully for the better). You can upgrade both your home and your workplace, but who has the disposable funds? It’s hard enough to keep everyone fed, much less spent 5 credits to shortcut inspection mode.


Everyone’s okay for now. Except dead uncle

It sounds like I’m complaining about Papers Please a lot, right? It doesn’t sound like much of a game, does it? It’s difficult to explain why I’ve been staying up late playing every night. I actually get into a zone where I’m sailing through the line – checking expiration dates, height/weight, cross-referencing with pictures of fugitives, verifying entry stamps, and everything else. I feel like I’m doing well, even if my in-game reward is merely keeping my head above water.

I don’t feel a real sense of loyalty to the nation of Arstotzka, or the guards, or the people I interact with, or the family in my slum-like dwelling. I feel a loyalty to my duty, to my job. And so, I keep doing it to the best of my ability, menial and harsh as it is.


You may pass. Don’t mess this up for us

So, what does Papers Please teach us? That we Americans actually have it pretty good? That big government is built on the backs of the little guy? That we sell our souls to save those of our loved ones? That anything can become an indifferent task through repetition – even crushing people’s dreams? Honestly, I could write several paragraphs on any of these. I suggest you play the game yourself. If you have any kind of semi-modern PC or Mac, you’ll be able to do so. Let me know what you think.

Papers Please is definitely not for everybody. Not only is there a bare minimum of shooting or violence; it’s often not even “fun” in the strictest sense of the word. That said, I can’t recommend it enough.


Not everyone wants to simply pass through

— Justin Leeper (@StillManFights)

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2 thoughts on “I have no job, so I play Papers Please

  1. Pingback: 2013 Gaming Review | My Year of Backlogs

  2. Pingback: 2013 Gaming Review | Justin's This Just In

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