In his PopMatters article on Papers, Please, Lucas Pope’s wonderful game about managing a border checkpoint for the fictional authoritarian country of Astotzka, Scott Juster calls the game, “a terrifying and elegant illustration of how inhumanity is created through systems.” This description could not be more accurate. As the game progresses and feeding your family becomes increasingly difficult, you may sacrifice morality for another day with food or heat. Watching yourself become villainous is one of the most interesting and disturbing parts of the game.
In addition to portraying the bureaucratization of unethical behavior, Papers, Please also makes fascinating and compelling claims about activism. There is one very basic system that defines player behavior in Papers, Please: Familiarize yourself with the rules (although they may change from day to day) and reject immigrants and visitors who do not comply. Above the “look, compare, stamp” routine is a larger political system that defines the behavioral context. The government of Arstotzka, fearing terrorism or revolutionary dissent, maintains a deeply troubling and despotic regime.