I once moved to the U.K. for an extended period of time. I can recall very few situations more stressful than that customs line: Did I have all my papers? What questions were they going to ask? What would happen if I got waived through but my wife didn’t? In terms of “immigrations,” it was a relatively mild one. We had given up our apartment and jobs in the U.S., but if we got denied, we still had friends and family to help us out. We weren’t going to be secreted away by fascist goons, and the laws of both the U.S. and the U.K. were fairly navigable in the grand scheme of things. Still, watching the border officer review all our paperwork was tense. The seconds it took for her to reach for her stamp felt like years. What was going through her mind while she looked at our documents?
Lucas Pope’s Papers, Please offers one possible explanation, albeit one set in a much more dramatic environment. It’s a game where you play as an immigration inspector who has to process paperwork and make the decision whether to allow people to cross the border. Your job is simple: grant or deny people passage to the country. However, as the game goes on, the human cost of of your decision for both you and those you evaluate becomes apparent, leading to some uncomfortable realizations about the power of social structures.