How “Papers, Please” Makes Tedious Work Enjoyable

Papers, Please is an interesting game.

A 2013 release by indie developer Lucas Pope, Papers, Please, pushes the envelope of our idea of a game. The player takes on the role of an unnamed immigration officer tasked with allowing or denying the entry of people into the fictional country of Arstotzka.

What I find most puzzling about Papers, Please is the gameplay’s eerie similarity to real work.

As an immigration officer, you review the documents of countless people trying to enter the country. This includes making sure all their documents are accounted for, checking for forgeries, false information, mismatched fingerprints, incorrect dates and more. If you make a mistake, you’re given citations which can eventually lead to punishments. These citations hang over your head as you have a family to care for and a son who, I assume, has some sort of immunodeficiency.

Well, what the hell? It seems like a lot of real people sit in offices doing that every day. Why are those people not raving about how exciting and rewarding their careers are as many critics are praising Papers, Please

Of course, if I came to that conclusion immediately, I’d be completely ignoring the immersive emotional journey the player is taken on in the communist country of Arstotzka.

Throughout the game, you are the arbiter: you can be the cold, ruthless officer that denies anyone with a missing document, or you might be swayed by the claims of hardship by the fictional citizens and intentionally let them in and take a citation out of sympathy.

There are many plotlines at once, each with engaging characters: from the love story between Sergiu and Elisa who are trapped on opposite sides of the border to the shrouded Ezic operative with mysterious intentions, and even the carefree and loving drug-dealer of Jorji. These standout characters challenge players to make the tough decisions, “do I let this person in but risk my own life?”

Sergiu and Elisa, lovers the player can choose to help, are reunited.
Sergiu and Elisa, lovers the player can choose to help, are reunited.

Papers, Please is a landmark game that took menial tasks such as inspecting and verifying documents and turned it into a narrative that the player could immerse themselves in and actually care about.

Perhaps, even, it is a sign of our times. Maybe the boring office work and desk jobs are just lacking in the connections that Papers, Please offered through fictional characters. Or maybe, we’re just blind to the amazing connections we have to one another each and every day.

Whatever the case may be, Papers, Please has proven itself to be nothing less than an absolute success and an iconic title in the indie game world. I think it’s amazing that the indie game sphere allows for ideas so imaginative that even office work can be made into an enjoyable experience.

A character pleads, "Do not arrest me, please."
A character pleads, “Do not arrest me, please.”


Brigham is pursuing a degree in business finance at SUNY Fredonia and started writing to give himself an outlet to be creative. Indie games have been a major part of his gaming diet for much of his life, with favorites including Spleunky, Risk of Rain and The Binding of Isaac. Outside of gaming, he enjoys weightlifting, chess, and hiking.

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