First off: Hey everybody! If you’re still reading, thank you, if you find this later, thank you. I quick reminder that this blog started off as a way for me to keep track of what I needed to do in World of Warcraft in order to start tanking raids. I chronicled my journey into hardcore(ish) raiding, then into raid leading. Those who followed me got to see my descent into burnout, then watch as I attached myself with almost mindless fervor to the as yet unreleased Guild Wars 2. I played other games as well, but mostly mused and speculated on what would be happening when that game released. Then something happened and I basically stopped talking about Guild Wars 2, and then I got a new job as a game artist myself, moved cities, and used the blog as an outlet for posting recent artworks. Since then it’s pretty much faded into obscurity as I let it lie in a pool of dereliction.
I expect to continue posting art when I remember. Mainly though, the duties of my position have shifted and afforded me more desire to work on my own projects. I’ll talk about them here as well as what I’m currently playing and my thoughts on game design and production in general. If you enjoy them, great! If not, then I’m sorry I wasted your time. Mostly I just write for me. If you’d like to follow a bit more spaztic version of my thoughts, feel free to stalk the living bajeezus out of my tumblr. Now, without further ado….
Everybody loves Steam Sales, right? I know I do. I pick out games I really want then wait until I get that happy little e-mail that lets me know something on my wishlist is on sale, then I either snap it up or I don’t. I tend to have two categories of ‘stuff that I want‘. There’s ‘stuff that I want that I’m going to buy right this instant‘, and ‘stuff that I want that I can’t really justify paying money for but I’d still really like to have‘.
This sexy sexy hoodie is, sadly, in category two. The game I just loaded up, however, was super firmly in category one. And that game is:
The description on Steam begins thus: Congratulations. The October labor lottery is complete. Your name was pulled. For immediate placement, report to The Ministry of Admission at Grestin Border Checkpoint. An apartment will be provided for you and your family in East Grestin. Expect a Class-8 dwelling. The communist state of Arstotzka has just ended a 6-year war with neighboring Kolechia and reclaimed its rightful half of the border town, Grestin. Your job as immigration inspector is to control the flow of people entering ther Arstotzkan side of Grestin from Kolechia. Among the throngs of immigrants and visitors looking for work are hidden smugglers, spies, and terrorists. Using only the documents provided by travelers and the Ministry of Admission’s primitive inspect, search, and fingerprint systems you must decide who can enter Arstotzka and who will be turned away or arrested.
Upon booting the game, you are presented with a black screen upon which soon marches the logo to the game in lockstep with the oppressive and forcefully patriotic theme music. Even just the music and strictly regimented motion of the animation gets my hackles up. I had reservations about this game even before I bought it. Now, it’s frankly giving me chills and I haven’t even started. Eventually though, I do begin a new game and, horrifyingly, I find it’s even worse than I could imagine.
Quickly, I want to make note that when I say it’s terrible, and it’s worse, I don’t mean that to be a slight on the game. This game has got me by the short hairs and I’m reacting to it on a visceral level. That’s the whole point, and it’s doing a terrifyingly good job of it. I haven’t had this strong of a reaction to a game since I played Amnesia: The Dark Descent (which I still haven’t finished, but that’s a story for another bright, sunny, bunnies-in-the-grass day) Instead of pure, unbridled flight-or-flight terror, this game produces in me disgust, fear, worry, stress, tension, and anxiety. This is not a game one should play to relax, especially if you’re not a fast reader or very good at hidden object or ‘one thing is not like the other’ type games. That’s the whole premise.
If you hadn’t gathered by now, your whole purpose is to analyze peoples’ documents and persons to determine weather they should be granted entry into the country. Everything must match. If it doesn’t you must deny them entry. Even if it does and you saw something in the paper about a certain person being suspicious, you must deny them entry and detain them. If you don’t you will be given a warning. Even if the papers do match, and you deny them entry because they’re part of an underground human trafficking ring but the government hasn’t asked you to do anything about this, you’re given a warning. Get enough warnings, and they dock your pay. Herein lies the rub that sent me over the edge with this game.
Your pay. This game pulls some mechanics from Oregon trail in a terrible, horrible, gut-wrenching way. You are paid, and with your pay, you must allocate funds for food, heat and, should your family get sick, medicine. I was barely making enough to cover everything, then my son got sick and I had to turn off the heat. Then the rest of my family started getting sick and I had to choose between food or medicine. We were hungry and we were cold. All the while I’ve gone to work and I’m presented with this endless stream of people who I have to either allow or deny access. If I make a mistake I will be reprimanded, perhaps even my already too-meager pay will be docked. On the other side, the more people I get through the gate, the higher my salary and the better I will be able to care for my family.
So I must be thorough, yet I must be quick, and there is no margin for error or people will die and my family will suffer. It’s not a fun game, and it isn’t pleasant, but I don’t believe it’s meant to be. In the way I loved Dear Esther and Amnesia, I love Papers, Please. Video games, even more than other forms of entertainment like books or movies or music, have the ability to transport us. They allow us to slip into someone else’s shoes, to experience the merest taste of what another would go through. These games exist to evoke an emotional response and to enlighten us to situations and considerations we might not previously have entertained. I would encourage everyone to seek out and play games like this. They’re not meant to award the posturing masses with row upon row of high scores with which they can use to declare to the world their imagined greatness. These are games made to make one think, to empathize, and perhaps to open ones mind a bit wider.
I think I’ll continue to play Papers, Please, though I don’t read very quickly and am bad at spotting discrepancies. I fear my family will die because of my incompetence, though I will try my best. The true terror though, I believe, comes from the possible parallels we could draw between the world this game presents and the one which we currently inhabit. I’ll leave that to you though.