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.