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Towing the Line in Papers, Please

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Posted August 27, 2013 by Esteban Cuevas in Editorials
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Recently, I’ve been playing Papers, Please, an indie title from Lucas Pope. The game has you play as an immigration officer for the fictitious country of Arstotzka (heavily implied to be communist Russia in the 80s) and do your desk job of checking the paperwork of those hoping to come into the country and either let them in or send them back. You get paid for each person you see each day, which you then need to spend on rent, food, heat and, if necessary, medicine. Each day gets more difficult as new rules are instated as relations between Arstotzka and its neighboring countries start to deteriorate and you’ll have to be even more vigilant. If you make a mistake, it will result in your pay being cut and you having less money for your family.

The game is really engaging as you encounter various situations such as someone not having the proper paperwork despite their spouse having already been let in or a mother who wants to visit her son after years of not seeing him only to have a mistake on their passport. What was strange is for the first few days, I noticed that I would just strickly follow the rules as they are laid in front of me. A woman afraid for her life came through trying to escape to Arstotzka but had the incorrect paperwork. Without thinking twice, I rejected her passport and sent her back, probably to her death. I did exactly what I was told without paying any mind to their situation and I have to think that many immigration officers in real life do the same. You see, you don’t have much money in the game even when you do your job right and often you will not have enough money for everything. You will have to choose between getting medicine for your sick son or food.

I started wondering why I was content with just following orders, casting a blind eye to whatever these people’s plight may be. Then I came across a young girl who seemingly was bribing me with a ticket to a whore house. However, her paperwork checked out anyway so I approved her and as she left, she asked me to help her and slipped me a note. The note said that her and her sister will be sold as sex slaves if a certain man in line was allowed to be let in. This took me aback as now I had someone who was directly asking me for help. I kept the note in mind until that man finally showed up. I looked at that note placed at the corner of my work table and with barely a second thought, I rejected his passport. I didn’t even both to see if it was correct or not. Turns out it was and I was issued a warning for incorrectly sending someone back. I was docked $5 which is half the amount you get for seeing someone. I exasperated in disappointment as I needed more money. My family was already all sick and I hadn’t been able to afford heat the day before.

Papers, Please is a really unique game that makes not only a mundane job engaging but makes you think as to what someone in a similar job must go through everyday. It may not be communist Russia but everyday, there are Mexican people trying to come into the United States, searching for a new beginning or a better life for their families. Many times, the people behind the desk are seen as cruel to not be sensitive to these people’s situation but really, they’ve just gone numb out of necessity. There are many people who immigrate solely to cause trouble as the paper reports and terrorist attacks in the game show and these immigration officers are what stand in between them. I’m not saying that they need to be more respected or that they need to be more sensitive to people’s situations but I do see more of the picture, and if anything, awareness is the strongest impact you can have.


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Esteban Cuevas


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