At a first glance, a game like Papers, Please can look unassuming. Boring, even.  You’re an immigration inspector at a border checkpoint in East Grestin, Arstotzka, and your job is to examine the paperwork of those who come through. In the bottom half of your screen, you see the front of your booth, and your table (where most of the gameplay happens) to the right side. In the upper half, you see the line of immigrants hoping to get in to the far left, and three armed officers protecting the border to the far right. It is very similar to one of those cooking flash games you would play on your dad’s office computer as a kid. Yell “NEXT!”, ask for the person’s documents, check if everything is in order, decline or accept, “NEXT!”, wash, rinse, repeat. So what could make a game so simple be so disheartening?


Why am I crying over a pixelated smudge of color?

Things are very grim in this universe. There is an ongoing war, constant terrorist attacks, and you barely make enough money to feed your family. In short, no clear sight of hope around these corners. But, throughout the day, you are the last chance of hope for each immigrant that steps up in line. Many of them come to you in vulnerable situations and these moments bring up a conflicting dilemma. 

Do you do your job or do you help those people in need?

The game is not forgiving at all. If you violate protocol you will get a citation. The rules are constantly changing, so you may very well mess up two or three times because you’re confused, and when the time comes to make a moral decision, you’re already 5 credits in debt. Not enough, you still have rent to pay and 4-5 mouths to feed (depending on game choices). There is always a punishment for giving in to your emotions and helping the characters.


I detailed some of these scenarios below, and I’d highly recommend playing the game before reading these.

  • Stop Dari Ludum

A female entrant on day 6 gives you a note asking for your help because she fears for her and her sister’s safety, stating that she is afraid that Ludum will force her and her sister to work at a brothel. He appears later that day and hands you a Pink Vice slip. He presents valid papers, and denying him will result in a citation. Regardless of whether his entry is approved or denied, the next day’s news will report that some dancers at the club have been found dead. 

  • The vengeful father.

A man comes by and gives you a picture of his daughter, Julia, who was killed by Simon Wens. He asks you to confiscate the murderer’s passport and let him through so he can avenge her death. As Simon is a wanted criminal, letting him in will result in a citation. Should you go against the father’s wishes, even if you arrest Wens, you will be called a heartless scum, and he’ll claim that “there will be no true justice now”, which hurts a lot to hear after you swore you did the right thing.

  • Sergiu and Elisa

The heart of the game. After a few days after introducing himself as one of the guards, Sergiu comes to you asking you for a favor: grant entry to Elisa Katsenja, a woman he fell in love with during the war. He then gives you a locket with her picture. Elisa ends up not having all the required documents, so letting her through will result in a citation. I believe that even the most rule bound players in the game made the choice to let her in. Sergiu has been nothing but friendly and it feels wrong to deny him this enormous joy. Approving her leads to a very heartwarming cutscene, and it is truly a breath of fresh air in this gloomy environment. However, the game has to break your heart. The very next day, a terrorist will kill Sergiu after the reunion if you’re not fast enough to save him. If you deny Elisa, she says she understands and adds “Please, tell Sergiu I will always love him. We will be together in another life.”

  • Jorji Costava

 Ok, I know I just said Sergiu and Elisa are the heart of the game, but if you ask anyone who ever played Papers, Please what was most memorable for them, they’ll definitely answer Jorji. He presents comic relief and inserts humanity into the grim world of the game. He never takes it to heart when you deny him and confirms later in the game he grew a liking to you (“I come through often to see you. We become good friends!”)  

Eventually, he comes back with proper documentation, and it is pure joy to let him in. It’s easy to become attached to this character, which makes the possibility of arresting him later in the game feel very, very wrong.

  • Son’s Drawing

When I got used to starving my family in favor of the people who came to my border, the game let me know it was my son’s birthday. You have the option to get him the gift he really wants, a crayon set. If you buy it for him, he’ll present you with this drawing the next day. This moment was off-putting for me because it was the first time my family members felt real to me, and I felt guilty for letting them go hungry and fall ill so many times.

There are more ways the game tests your humanity, too. Like the phrases you hear such as “You’ve ruined me” upon denial or “What’s happening?” upon detainment. Another moment is when an Antegrian man asks you to let in his wife after him, and she doesn’t have an entry permit. When your sister gets arrested for an unknown reason, you are asked whether you want to adopt your niece. It’s an extra mouth to feed, but if you don’t, who will?

The game is very clear: if you want to succeed, don’t care about the characters. But, how can we ignore those who are suffering, in favor of a paycheck that isn’t even real? Maybe there’s something to be said about this in real life as well.

Article by Stefany

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