Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Papers, Please

Papers, Please is a border checkpoint simulator. You play as a poor family man in a fake eastern European 80's country that lucked into a job as a border guard. You go to work, people try to get into your country, and you look at their passport. Stamp it and let them through. Look at the next person in line. Repeat until the workday is done. Go home, spend your paycheck on food and heat for your family. Repeat.

There are some twists... You aren't actually supposed to just blindly stamp every passport and let people through. No, you need to make sure the passport checks out with an ever increasing number of banal rules imposed by the government. You need to make sure the passport hasn't expired, and that it was issued in the right place, and that foreigners have the right extra documents. That the extra documents match up properly. And on and on. Mess up and the game yells at you. Take too long and you don't process enough people. You get paid by the person processed so if you're too slow your family starves and gets sick.

It's all very depressing. I can imagine life in a world like this. I can imagine thinking I need to be happy that I have any job at all so that my family can have a nice class 8 apartment and heat if I do a good job. But there are so many stupid rules, and the rules keep changing, and the people you reject at the border make you feel bad for rejecting them. Life in a border checkpoint simulator sucks.

There's a plot going on in the background as time goes by. My first game ended abruptly when I took a big bribe and then was asked about it by an inspector from the government. I told him the truth and got thrown in jail as a result. Stupid government. It made me want to play again and try to find a way to stick it to the government. (Which started by taking a big bribe and then lying about it. Hah!) But the gameplay isn't all that fun, so even though I want to know what happens I don't know that I care enough to keep playing.

There's also the problem that I find one of the rules you need to enforce really offensive. Passports have a gender listed on them and if someone doesn't look like that gender you need to question them on it. Sometimes this is because the passport is a fake and the game uses it as a legitimate reason to reject their entry or detain them. But other times it's because the person presents as the 'wrong' gender and the solution is to use an invasive scanner on them. Then you have to check out the naked photo to look for prominent breasts or a penis to make sure that matches the gender listed on the passport.

This is all kinds of terrible. I don't think I can properly do justice in a discussion of transgender issues, but what I do think I can say is that this is horrible. Turning someone back at a border because of what genitals they may or may not have it just plain wrong. Using a scanner for the sole purpose to check what someone looks like naked is so wrong I can't even find words to find how wrong it is. (You also use the scanner on people who weigh more than they should... Frequently finding stuff taped to their bodies like knives or bombs. Presumably that is justification for having them at all.)

Now, I could just ignore the rule. That's certainly how I started out, because it wasn't explicitly listed anywhere that I saw. But each time you let someone through who shouldn't go through you get yelled at and get a permanent mark on your record. Let too many through in a given day and you get a financial penalty which for me at least tends to result in my family going hungry or cold. I don't like getting yelled at. I don't like being 'bad' at a game. I like following rules. I don't like having my fake family get punished for my failures. It all just adds up to not feeling good playing the game, and that doesn't make me want to keep playing.

Maybe this is all social commentary about how bad oppressive systems can be? Maybe I feel bad about being a border guard in a pseudo-Russian country because the developer wants me to feel bad? If so, good job, I guess? But I'm not going to keep playing your game. At least I got my Steam cards out of you.

No comments: