Papers, Please is one of those games that, I feel, explores what storytelling in videogames is all about. From the point we’re confronted with a near perfectly immersive interface — we interact with the world by moving documents around, as we step into the role of a passport inspector/border checkpoint desk agent — to the time we (if we’re careful) survive through thirty-one days of life in communist Arstotzka (Glory to Arstotzka!), Papers Please toys with what stories it’s possible to tell around very simple gameplay mechanics.
And, even better than that, the one-man-band behind the game, Lucas Pope, really does have a story to tell. More branching than interactive, the branches are all meaningful — I’ve only encountered five or so, and between escaping from Arstotzka with my wife, son, and my niece (the daughter of an imprisoned sister), being locked up for showing the Ministry of Information the wrong thing I didn’t want to be given by rebel agents, and making it through all thirty-one days with my head fearfully kept down long enough to escape any suspicion, they’ve all had something deeply emotional to tell me.
In some ways, Papers, Please is one of those games that’s almost more experiment than game, and I can hardly pretend it’s for everyone, or that it’s necessarily going to have much long term replayability/interest, but it’s fairly unique, and worth checking out for that reason alone. When we take into account the nature of the game’s interface being perfectly in tune with how we play the game and interact with the world, the skilful take on a branching storyline with multiple endings, and the simple power of emotional storytelling, I’d call Papers, Please one of the games you need to look at, if you have any serious interest in games as a media format, or interactive storytelling, or any combination of those things.
Report to the Grestin Border checkpoint at http://papersplea.se/, pay your entry fee of roughly ten dollars, and give it a whirl.