There’s no denying it’s a crazy time in US politics. Heck, it’s a crazy time in global politics for that matter. Just under two weeks ago, the 45th US President signed an Executive Order severely limiting entry to the US from non-citizens from 7 Middle Eastern countries. Known broadly as the “travel ban" the order also caught up travelers who were not part of those 7 listed countries, and in short it created mass havoc at airports across the nation, not to mention protests in major cities across the US. Well, life imitates art and sometimes art imitates life, and in much the same way the classic George Orwell novel Nineteen Eighty-Four rocketed up the best-sellers lists following the new US President coming into power, the 2013 dystopian game Papers, Please ($7.99) has also found itself becoming more relevant in today’s political climate.
Papers, Please is a game that has you playing a border patrol agent in a fictional authoritarian country called Arstotzka, and your job involves checking the documents of those who wish to enter the country. Sounds boring, but it’s anything but. With the government constantly changing regulations you have to pay special attention to detail when admitting people across the border. You don’t want to accidentally admit a terrorist now, do you? But below the surface there is a tremendous amount of stuff going on in Papers, Please. Do you want to play nice with the corrupt police and throw them a few “terrorists" in order to make a few bucks? Will you look the other way when a woman who has just a tiny discrepancy in her paperwork that SHOULD get her barred is trying to visit her sick and dying child?
Papers, Please is a game built around nuances like those, and will really test your own moral culpability. Given everything going on with the travel ban the game has suddenly found itself going from “fictional dystopian future" to “holy heck some of this stuff is really happening!" Jason Concepcion at The Ringer has had the same revelation about Papers, Please and has written a great summary of the correlations between the game and reality. Here’s an excerpt.
When President Trump signed his executive order temporarily banning refugees and blocking travel from seven majority-Muslim countries, I thought about Papers, Please. When I first played the game three years ago, I found it ominous and inventive. Replaying it recently, I found it disturbing and humbling — disturbing because of the clear parallels between the game and Trump’s executive order, humbling because of the way it depicts how easily a person’s morality can become subsumed by the machinery of state power.
That is just a tiny snippet, but the entire article is worth reading. Papers, Please was an eye-opening game when it released back in 2013, and it really hit me at an emotional level that most video games never quite get to. Given what’s happening in the US so far in 2017, it’s more than just a somber look at a fictional reality, it’s downright frightening. Is this what our country is heading for, a real-life Papers, Please? Let’s hope not, but if you haven’t played the game previously it was well worth playing in 2013 and absolutely essential in 2017.