Papers, Papers, Papers

I started my night by doing some reading from Avatars of Story by Marie-Laure Ryan. I had a slow start and began to get distracted. So instead of zoning out for ten pages, I decided to begin playing Papers, Please. I had no inkling of what the game would be about. I just bought it, opened the app and started playing.

The introductory music took me by surprise but I kind of liked it, so I kept my volume on (something I do not normally do when playing on my phone or iPad) which I found useful in immersing myself in the game. Essentially, you are an immigration guard who can admit or deny people’s access into your country. As you play this game, you learn your duties and how to carry them out as you go along. They introduce most of the background story through some plain text and newspaper headings. There is a subtle narrative in the game that we encounter through the newspapers, or notices from work/new protocol. However, I would say that this game is equally reliant on the task completion aspect of gaming. The tasks change in their level of complexity as the game goes along which I found reassuring because stamping papers was beginning to get tedious. Although, the tediousness of the task could very well be a commentary on everyday life and the human state of existence—l guess I will see if that’s true when I get to the end of the game.

It is vaguely reminiscent of a Choose Your Own Adventure Novel in that you can decide on whether or not to admit someone despite to the validity of their documents, which may change they storyline or the storyline given to you through the newspaper headings. This game also reminds me of Oregon Trail in that I have to do a certain number of tasks, correctly, in order to feed my family, buy medicine, and pay the rent and heat— and just like in Oregon Trail, I failed at this and my whole family died. It was through this that I learned that once your family dies, the game ends and that this ending is one of twenty other predetermined endings that one may encounter while playing this fame.

Oregon Trial screenshot- aka story of my childhood
Oregon Trail screenshot- a.k.a. story of my childhood
Things haven't change much from then…Screen shot from Papers, Please
Things haven’t change much from then…Screen shot from Papers, Please

There were quite a few things that I found interesting. The first was that the character attempting to enter the country often had little backstories that were exposed through dialogue or messages that they passed to me. I had to choose what to do, deny or admit certain characters, based on these interactions. It became almost an internal moral battle. (warning: I’m about to talk about a choice in the game that some may consider a spoiler I guess…) For example, I had just admitted a woman’s husband who had all the proper certifications to enter the country when he told me that his wife would be next and to take care of her. The wife walked up to the window and was missing a document. I could either admit her and receive a violation from my boss or deny her and send her back into a dangerous environment. Whatever sense of compassion I felt, I put aside and denied her out of fear of having my pay docked or being penalized. If I lost money or my job, my family would suffer. I was not very emotionally invested in either my game family or the decision but I could empathize with people who are faced with these decisions in real life—it gave me a little more sympathy for TSA agents, but only a little. On top of all of this, when the body scanners were introduced, I did not expect the avatars to be anatomically correct or so..naked. I felt like I was violating the poor people—it made me question where the line must be drawn between national security and basic rights. Another small point is that I found the immigrants/ returning citizens to be more interesting than either my character or my character’s family (I use the word character loosely because he has no real personality and is basically a vehicle for our agency)- which I guess makes sense since the entire game is centered around their entry and access. The main character’s family is a side-note so far, not really a story there, mainly just a motivator for our actions. If the main character didn’t have a family, I would do whatever I wanted but since he does, I feel responsible for them and it is affecting my choices.

Once my family died and I started the game all over, I had just gotten past where I had prior to my family dying when I decided to stop—I had been playing for two hours straight and my eyes hurt. I went back to Avatars of Story and it all clicked (I suggest if your having difficulty coming up with a blog post- play a game and then reread Ryan- I could write a whole other post on what she has to say about ludus and paidia, and how it relates to this game). I had been debating on how much of a narrative this game had and some things she said resonated with me. Ryan says “a game does not need to tell stories that would provide suitable literary material to immerse the player in the fate of its fictional world, because the thrill of being in a world, of acting in it and of controlling its history, makes up for the intellectual challenge, the subtlety of plot and the complexity of characterization that the best of literature has to offer” (95), which I think is a perfect statement to apply to Papers, Please. There is no huge plot happening, but the mere fact of being and acting in its world is enough to keep me playing.

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