What’s in a game? Part 1: Papers, Please

Greetings, Game Changers! It’s time we introduce you to a pretty interesting game called Papers, Please!

Papers, Please is a dystopian thriller by 3909 LLC set in a fictitious country, Arstotzka. Arstotzka had recently re-opened its borders and you, a regular citizen, have been conscripted as an immigration inspector. You are thrown into a job with little guidance and no room for mistakes. At your disposal are a bunch of manuals with vague information that you do not know how to utilise. Slowly, through trial and error, you begin to develop a rhythm and methodology for processing documentation for the various characters looking to secure passage into your glorious country.

The game does really well in its pacing. When you find yourself at a new level of competency and confidence, it introduces new wrinkles to the formula in the form of world events such as terrorist attacks and political upheaval. These grand changes trickle down, complicating your day-to-day work with new regulations and processes, not very unlike real world work environments where players reside.

Image credits: Steam

Further down the line, the game also begins to introduce ethical dilemmas which pokes a giant hole at the core structure of the game. Do you let political fugitives in, knowing that your rejection is effectively a death sentence for these characters? How would you play out the dilemma of being ethical versus following the rules of the game? What are the long term consequences of your decision?

From a gamification standpoint, Papers, Please allows players to understand the complexities that come with a seemingly routine job. It allows players to inhabit the shoes of a different profession and develop empathy and understanding of their work. The game also shows us a way to potentially gamify onboarding for new employees.

The game is beautifully written and the atmosphere is well curated. Try your hand at it here:


Happy playing,

Wai Hong