I don’t know how to figure out if Papers, Please is fun. Seriously, any barometer of fun I’ve used is incompatible. It is a social experiment, faux history lesson, and paperwork simulator wrapped up in one dark, pixellated ball.
You play as a checkpoint worker for the fictional country Arstotzka, one of many that make up this knock-off Soviet Russia of the 1980s. You must validate passports, entry tickets, and ID cards, while doing your best to keep your family alive. With each citizen you correctly let through or deny entry to, you receive five credits. At the end of the day you must decide how to allocate these funds, whether it is food, heat, medicine, booth upgrades, or other miscellaneous options. More often than not, you have to choose between necessities, crossing your fingers you get through the night.
The complex decisions don’t end there though. Not long into the job, you start to hear from rebel groups. Something fishy is happening in Arstotzka, making you question the validity of your employer’s requests. Then sometimes people in danger show up with improper paperwork, and you must decide between doing your job correctly and helping out. With branching choices every day on the job, there are twenty endings total. I tried to get as many as I could before doing this review, but after landing in jail once for going five credits into debt, I am on a communist hot streak.
This game effectively conveys its messages or at least the ones I got from it. You see how the old and inflexible communist regime only led to further unrest and corruption when left unregulated. Also following rules and traditions without reason is never a good idea. The cliché about knowing who you’re getting into bed with has never been so true.
Overall I can’t stop playing but could never tell you why. Maybe it’s a masochistic need to make me constantly wonder about the fate of my ever-growing family or the adrenaline rush I get when the citation printer starts going. Only thing I can say with certainty is that I clearly have a problem.