by Joseph Leray
Lucas Pope’s “Papers, Please” — dubbed a “dystopian document thriller” — is a point-and-click puzzle game about immigration, identity, and mid-80’s communism. The police state of Arstotzka has called a truce in the war against neighboring Kolechia, and it’s your our job to man the new immigration checkpoints.
Without having played “Papers, Please” yet, I can’t really speak to the quality of its puzzles or bureaucratic mechanics, but the pixelated drudgery and ominous Slavic death march on display in the trailer below suggest an emotional gutpunch: What if you accidentally let a violent criminal through? What if a Kolechian family offers a bribe?
After college, a friend of mine spent a year teaching English in Russia. One weekend, she decided to take a trip to Estonia. When she arrived at the border, her tourist visa was denied and she was sent back to Russia. The catch is that Russia wouldn’t allow her back either.
I don’t remember the specifics, but she spent most of the day stuck between two countries. She was, administratively speaking, nowhere. She ultimately made it back to her place in Moscow, but this is the kind of stuff “Paper, Please” deals with, only with more pipe bombs thrown at soldiers.
Immigration officers will need to grill potential refugees on their backgrounds and plans in Arstotzka and then cross-check against official documentation or strip search them for contraband. It’s hard to feel bad for Kolechian immigrants when you’ve got a family of your own, though — screenshots suggest that our intrepid bureaucrat has a family that depends on what must be his meager salary.
“Papers, Please” actually reminds me a bit of Richard Hoffmeier’s “Cart Life.” Hoffmeier’s game is a business sim about urban poverty and “Papers, Please” is a point-and-click adventure game, but they’re both willing to muck about in the most dreadful parts of the modern human experience. Degradation, pixelated and gamified!
Pope’s game was officially Greenlit (Greenlighted?) on Steam in May and will be available on PC and Mac on August 8th. It’s also being sold on Good Old Games, and $10 pre-orders are available from the game’s website.
See you on the other side, comrade.
Joseph Leray is a freelance writer from Nashville. Follow him on Twitter