The cold, hard thunk of my stamp.

I feel like I’ve been training for Papers, Please for years.

“Austin, there’s a discrepancy in last month’s general ledger posting reports but we can’t find the problem.”

“Austin, there’s a problem with a customer’s last purchase but it’s hard to follow the money of this complex transaction, can you look into it?”

“Austin, we’re going to set you up as an agent at a border checkpoint of a harsh Soviet bloc. While facing an endless flood of immigrants and returning citizens you must look for inconsistencies and forgeries across several entry documents and ever-changing policy.”

I got this.

Of course the penalty for failure in Papers, Please, is much higher than what I face in my day job. You’re only allowed two mistakes in a day, and if you make any more, you start to receive severe fines to your already meager pay. Mess up too often and it won’t be long until your family starves or freezes to death.  Though most often you’re sent to a debtors’ work camp long before that happens.

Too many citations in Papers, Please

The problem, as if that wasn’t enough, is that you get paid based on the number of people you process. You need to work quickly but you can’t afford to make mistakes either. A person moves up from the front of the line to your window, gives you the reason for their travel, and hands you their entry documents which include a passport and whatever other forms your country’s communist bureaucracy demands today. Some days immigrants need an immunization form, other days they need a particular kind of authorization document—but not yesterday’s authorization document! Everything comes with expiration dates, seals, personal details, and tracking numbers, all of which must be cross referenced and valid.

Checking credentials in Papers, Please

And this is fun? Papers, Please appeals to some small, rigid side of me—enforcing rules and order—but I find the game particularly fascinating since this bleak little border crossing doesn’t exist in a vacuum. You’re part of a brutal and corrupt administration and must decide how you fit in its framework. You approve the passage of a man seeking asylum since his papers are in order, but next in line is his wife, whose passport is expired; can you afford the mark against you that that day to let her through, or do you coldly deny her entry? Your decisions often influence later story threads and with multiple endings the game can go in a few directions.

Your checkpoint in Papers, Please

At first it was easy to be coldhearted. Give me any sass or hand me a blatantly forged document, forget imprinting your passport with my rejection stamp, I’ll call the guards immediately—plus the guards were throwing me a little something, something for detaining more people than necessary. I’ve got a family to feed! But, life got complicated—terrorist attacks, freedom fighters, my corrupt bosses got even MORE corrupt. The world wasn’t going to let me be a mindless cog following the rules even if that was what I wanted to be. 

Papers, Please is brilliant and well-designed. Even being able to organize my documents and manuals however I want on my cold little immigration counter is a wonderful touch, a false sense of control in an oppressive place. 

*Thunk* “Approved.” *Thunk* “Denied.” My stamps in Papers, Please have a strangely satisfying sound that carry a lot of weight.