For thousands of immigrants living and working in the U.S., it is not uncommon to live each day with anxiety and a sense of powerlessness, regardless of whether or not you have entered the country legally. Even with the appropriate documents, many immigrants live in fear of deportation, not fitting in, sudden “disappearances” of friends and family, and the tenuous nature of relying on paperwork to protect one’s future.
But what is life like for those on the other side of the immigration process? That’s the question that Papers, Please, a puzzle video game for Windows, OS X, and Linux, sets out to answer.
It may sound like an incredibly unlikely concept for a video game and one that would not do well on the market, but Papers, Please gives players the chance to be an immigration officer for the fictional country of Arstotzka. And, believe it or not, this “document thriller” has earned critical praise and numerous awards for its emotional depth and originality.
As an immigration officer, the player reviews passports, evaluates each potential immigrant’s story, and then decides who may enter the country. While dealing with an endless line of tired, but hopeful, immigrants and visitors, the challenges and moral dilemmas of deciding the fates of so many people become more apparent. How can one decipher the criminals, terrorists, or smugglers from the legitimate applicants? Should a single document error bar an immigrant’s spouse from entering the country or is it the mistake of a wanted criminal?
Additionally, the player must also weigh each decision about approving or denying access to Arstotzka with the other object of the game: making enough money to support your family. Allow the wrong person to enter the country, and you risk bringing home less money than your hungry family needs to survive. Suddenly, balancing the desire to help others with the real-life concerns of feeding your family gives players a more sympathetic, if not guilt-wracked, perspective of life on the other side of the immigration checkpoint.
In her review of the video game¸ Patricia Hernandez, a reporter for the game review website Kotaku and an immigrant herself, described the experience of stepping into the shoes of the very people she feared at the U.S. border. As a fictional immigration checkpoint officer, Hernandez found that she lost sight of the people (albeit video game characters) whose fates she controlled and began making the same snap judgments that she encountered in the real world based on paperwork and appearances. The game illustrates how the immigration process can take real human stories and boils them down to just names and paperwork.
Papers, Please offers a surprising, moving glimpse into the moral ambiguity that permeates the immigration process from both sides. If you’ve had a chance to play Papers, Please, stop by our Facebook page and let us know what you think: https://www.facebook.com/ImmigrationAttorneyLosAngeles