Judgements, Please

Admittedly, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I began playing Papers, Please.  As I got more and more familiar with the game, I realized there was so much more to it than the obvious parallel between real-world border offices.  I was making so many judgments about these people, and I barely noticed.

As with most other videogames, Papers, Please starts off easy and increases in difficulty.  At first, my job was merely to make sure that dates and cities lined up.  Each immigrant only gave me a passport.  There was no dialogue of importance to deal with.

Then there was the attacks.  After the first attack, I had my suspicions that the offender I’d let through had given me a Kolechian passport.  After the second, I was almost positive.  I was then looking suspiciously at everyone from Kolechia, even though at that point in the game I couldn’t search anyone I wanted to.

Realizing this really upset me.  Even though this is a fictional setting and these are not real people, this is something that happens all the time.  Islamophobia in the United States is a huge problem, and one of the places that it’s the strongest is at airports and other borders.  Other forms of racism are of course also present in our society.  In 2010, there was a large controversy over the Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act because people worried that it would encourage racial profiling.

Later in the game, some passports reported the incorrect gender.  This also worried me.  I endeavor to keep an open mind in regards to gender and am making a conscious effort not to assume how someone identifies.  This aspect of the game was encouraging me to look at a person and decide whether or not I thought they matched the gender identifier on their passport, sending them in for a scan when they didn’t match up.

All of this made me very uncomfortable.  When I noticed myself making these kinds of judgments, I cringed.  The stakes felt high, and I felt like lives depended on me, so I kept making those judgments.  I think it’s now time for me to walk away for a little while.

0 thoughts on “Judgements, Please

  1. I could not agree with you more. This is, in essence, a very simple game, but it felt like the stakes were insanely high while playing. For me, this feeling originated because I did not want to let a terrorist into the country and because I was also trying to feed my family, and these two factors combined to create tension as every wrong person I let in lead to a decrease in the amount of money I brought home, thus making my family have to go without food or heat or medicine for a week, or the person I let in could possibly end up being a terrorist and killing someone. I honestly did not make the same connection to reality that you made with the “Islamophobia” statement, but now that you mention it, there is a strong correlation between this phenomena and the views I was developing while I played this game. Once there was a terrorist attack, I began to grow EXTREMELY skeptical of all people from the country that the terrorist came from; whereas my goal was to approve or deny as many people as possible to make enough money to feed my family, once a passport from a country that a terrorist recently came from came across my desk, the whole process slowed way down and I thoroughly examined every aspect of the person and passport just looking for any reason to deny entry. Now that I see that I was doing this, it is quite easy to draw connections between the method that I was using to examine people who were possibly terrorists (all because they came from the same nation as a previous terrorist) and Islamophobia, and I agree with you … “I think it’s now time for me to walk away for a little while.”

  2. The game directives of “Papers, Please” cause us, as an immigration inspector, to be suspicious of everyone who passes through the checkpoint, understandably so. This is especially the case when a new day’s work begins, and instructions alerting us to pay careful attention to specific groups of people or individuals are given. As a result, it is not hard to racially profile or discriminate against certain individuals. These behaviors are forced upon us by the game for us to more efficiently perform our duties, which can be a scary thought when we think of how morally righteous we normally are

    Personally, the more interesting parts of the game were when I was confronted with people or requests who made me question my duties as part of the Ministry of Admissions (MOA). This, in and of itself, was a sign of my own agency shining through the bleak and strict guidelines set by the MOA; the very act of questioning whether I should admit a husband-wife couple that did not have all their proper documentation, reject a man with proper documentation because a woman before him told me it would save her life, reject Jorji Costava numerous times even after he started presenting proper documentation, listen to the EZIC rebels, take bribes, etc., showed that I am still human underneath it all, and that being human was very, very dangerous. I often weighed the benefits of helping someone at the cost of receiving a citation, even when I knew my success in the game, which was highly connected to my livelihood, revolved completely around following the rules. “Papers, Please” does a good job making the player question his or her morals and empathy. It made question how much I valued the established order and rules over people’s struggles and frustrations at living a decent life. Good job, game. You do a good job revealing your players’ characters.

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