Hey all! Last week, we looked at one of the greatest first-person-shooters of all time. And, I maintain, one of the most influential.
This week, we switch gears and look at a popular indie game that, while not very action-packed, has a lot to say.
Papers, Please came out just last year for PC. Designed by former Naughty Dog developer Lucas Pope, in Papers, Please you play as a nameless immigration inspector. The fictional country of Arstotzka has just opened it's borders, and it's up to you to review each person's immigration and identification documents.
From a gameplay standpoint, what this means is, you'll be looking at ID's, passports, vaccination forms, etc. etc. And then, you'll ultimately decide whether or not said person is clear to progress across the border, with an, "Approved" or "Denied" stamp. Later on, the rules get more complicated. You'll have to be able to spot forged documents, wanted criminals, non-matching information spread across multiple forms, fingerprint discrepancies...it goes on and on.
Sounds fun, right? No, you're right. It doesn't, at first. During the first level (levels here are days, starting in October) you'll be able to spot discrepancies quite easily. And you'll feel the daily grind of a 9-to-5, paperwork-heavy job.
But you're supposed to, for one. At first, Papers, Please gets you settled into a routine of stamping passports with little thought as to what happens to the numerous people you either allow or deny into Arstotska. The line of people never gets shorter, and the document discrepancies are laughable. Soullessly, you yell "Next!," and another potential immigrant shuffles forward. Repeat ad infinitum.
But then something happens.
At the end of the day, you're taken to a screen displaying how much you've been paid. And your daily pay is divided into things like rent, heat, and food and medicine for your family. See, you get 5 bucks for every person processed. But you lose pay for every botched approval/denial.
And you'll quickly find you might not have enough money for everything. Certain family members may have to go sick, cold or hungry.
Here's where you start to care.
Suddenly, you realize you need to pay attention to what you've been doing. Above all, you have to avoid seeing those penalty citations pop up. They print instantly, and seeing one is pretty dejecting, especially when you were sure that guy was good to go in. As the difficulty intensifies and more and more rules crop up, you'll invariably make mistakes and hence make less money. And the pressure builds and builds. You start caring about those nameless family members.
There's a whole story going on, too. Papers, Please has 20 different endings, with the one you get depending on a variety of factors. There's a shadowy group called EZIC, for example. They're some kind of anti-government group trying to get their members into Arstotska. Whether you help them or not is entirely up to you. You'll find yourself making some tough decisions; you'll have to choose between what you perceive as the right thing to do, or staying loyal to your country and/or family.
What's essentially a document simulator becomes something more over the course of a playthrough. There's so many paths you can take. You can be sympathetic to EZIC. You can let people in after hearing their tale of woe. Or you can be a ruthless bureaucrat, following the rules to a T no matter what the consequences of that action may be. The game gets so immersive.
There's a wide variety of feelings evoked throughout Papers, Please. There's feelings of isolation, being trapped in a booth over the entirety of the game, interacting with people only through a tiny window. There's sadness or apathy, depending on how you choose to play. I smiled widely at certain times that I won't spoil here. The old-school graphics are complimented with an intentionally drab color scheme, and audio is minimal at best. It's all designed to evoke a sense of bleakness, which is a sense you're supposed to feel throughout. Papers, Please is a fun game, it's an at times emotional one, but it's generally not particularly happy. It's not supposed to be, either.
Papers, Please is a game that makes you think. And a game that makes you think and feel is not a bad thing. These days, some people think it's a bad thing. But if I had to choose between an interactive experience that speaks to me, and one which is just "LOL AWESOME HEADSHOT XD," I'm going to choose the former every time. On the other hand, there's a place for both kinds of games.
I take shots at Call of Duty in these weekly articles from time to time. I make fun of it's shallowness and it's now paint-by-numbers routine. But I actually enjoy the series. It's fun. At least one of them is going to be a Game of The Week at some point. What I'm saying is, as a gamer, you can and should make room for both kinds of experiences in your gaming life. You'll be richer for it.
So play Papers, Please. Play Call of Duty. Play everything in between. Love the fact that video games even exist.
Thanks for reading! Leave comments and future Game of The Week suggestions in the usual spot. And Tweet me if you want @WingZero351
Next Week-Scrub up, cause we're going into surgery.