Chill Box: Papers, Please

Written by: Carlos Zotomayor

Games | Sep 7, 2016

Arstotzka chill box Lucas Pope Papers Please

Chill Box is where we relax and talk about video games and film from the distant past. There's a lot of cool stuff out there the younger generation have yet to experience or even heard about.  

Do you ever dream of the perfect desk job?

What's that? You think it's hellish and about as interesting as watching someone eat dried paint chips?

Well then, I'm sorry but you will have to move along; you aren't allowed to read about the wonders of sitting on a chair for twelve hours straight. More paint chips for us, then.

Papers, Please, an indie game created by former Naughty Dog developer Lucas Pope back in 2013, simulates all the wonders of having a job as an immigration officer. You have a nice oak desk, a fancy rulebook that shows you who can and cannot enter the fictional country of Arstotzka, and two stamps. All these things together make you the country's official bouncer.

The premise of this white-collar game is simple: follow the rulebook's guidelines when screening migrants. If they provide the proper documents, then all is well and they may pass. If they don't, back they go to whatever inferior country they came from.

At the outset of the game everything is easy: Arstotzkans go in, everyone else goes out. But as the game progresses, more rules get implemented and the documents given by each migrant soon resemble outtakes from their family scrapbook collection. That's where you come in.

Within that small confined booth, you are the given the almighty power to let people pass into the country. Shuffling through papers, checking for discrepancies; by giving such a tiny space to work in, Papers, Please gives the feel that you are an underpaid and overworked cog in a machine that does not give a damn about you.

So why should you give a damn about getting the job done?

Well first of all, you have a family to provide for.

Even if you never really get to see your wife, child, and the rest of your unfortunate family tree, the text at the end of each day proves that they exist. It then falls to you to make sure that this hypothetical family is well-fed and comfortable. This rarely ever happens.

Another reason to get the job done is the government.

Though you technically work for them, things like falling behind on your quota and letting unauthorized migrants pass do not go unnoticed by The Man. And should you garner their attention, it's off you go to that wonderful prison cell... far away from your deadbeat family. This may seem like a viable option, if only letting your family starve or get imprisoned did not end in you losing the game.

So with a meager salary and Big Brother looking over your shoulder, what's a man to do in these hard times? Why, take it out on other people, of course!

Probably the biggest aspect of Papers, Please, the migrants themselves bring a level of personality into this otherwise paper-thin (heh) game. From complete dirtbags to star-crossed lovers, almost every person you encounter has a story to tell.

But does that story really matter?

That's where the game starts to sink in. By screening applicants and checking papers on a daily basis, you become more and more desensitized to these people's pleas for help. It becomes less about the people and more about making ends meet (just like having a job at McDonald's).

You start to develop a habit where you stop paying attention to the person and just get to processing their requests fast enough so that you can get as many people done as possible before the day ends. They become numbers; factors that fuel the dirty, dirty machine of capitalism.

It's a machine that works both ways. Sure you may get a few credits by doing your job, but why not make a little more on the side? A foreigner may not have the proper documents, but when he shoves fifteen credits (which could provide for your family) right into your open hands, how can you say no?

Aside from taking bribes, there are other ways Papers, Please is subtle. Ongoing tensions between neighboring countries can result in people rioting and illegally crossing the border. Turning down foreign journalists can result in new rules being implemented which just make your day job much more difficult. The list goes on and on. 

You can never really know what a little decision like taking a bribe or letting a person cross the border without the proper papers can do. There could be an investigation into your ill-gotten gains. You may let a fanatic into the country who is the bomb (literally). A number of these things could happen, or none of them.

It's a dirty business, living the life of a paper pusher. Not as dirty as the life of a janitor in a retirement home, mind you, but dirty in a sense that you have to choose between upholding the standards of a country that has its hands around your neck and a family whose hands are in your wallet.

About the author: Carlos Zotomayor

Zoto can see your underpants. Mmm... tasteful.

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