I haven't played it yet, but I've read a fair number of reviews for it, and I think there's something fascinating about what it's doing and even what I think it's trying to say.
In Papers, Please, you are put in a position such that you can grant or deny visas into your country, but you have to process enough people to pay for food and heat for your family, and you have a strict and confusing rulebook to follow that changes over the course of the game.
So much of our pop culture gives us the illusion of power, and games especially so, when we are the only 'real' thing in these worlds. (I hear The Stanley Parable is a game that explores this idea in a cool way, and I would very much like to play it someday.) Papers, Please does seem to operate within that framework. The fates of the immigrants that pass through your checkpoint are yours to decide. And yet, there are larger systems at play that will force your hand, that will back you into a corner.
The reviews for this game, mostly written by white men for other white men, express a certain amount of surprise at the choices they do make, when given a decision between becoming corrupt or letting your family starve to death. They look at themselves differently when they are forced into a position where there are only bad choices and they are forced to compromise.
It's only a game. When you turn it off, close that window, shut down your computer, it disappears as if it never existed. But I like that little window it forms, that little glimpse into what it means to be powerless.
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