Gameplay Journal #9
The game I chose this week was Papers Please. In this game, you play the character of a border agent in the fictional country known as Arstotzka, where you have to check and verify entering passports and other papers. As the story progresses, the rules change and new requirements are needed, and it becomes pretty challenging as you try to remember what the current rules are. However, there are many opportunities for you to bend or even break the rules and let people in illegally, at the risk of losing money, which you need to feed your family and pay for heating and medicine. Some situations pull at your morals, others urge you towards treason, and with several different endings to explore there’s a lot of replay value.
The game reflects Mary Flanagan’s concept of critical play in its dialogue and decision making. “ Critical play means to create or occupy play environments and activities that represent one or more questions about aspects of human life (Flanagan 6).” Even if you start off intending to be a good guard and follow the rules, you might end up considering taking bribes when your son is starving and your house has no heating. You’ll have to think about what the moral decision is when you’re asked to turn away terrified refugees, only to see them get dragged off to prison. There’s also a lot of political commentary and parody based around Soviet Russia, the Berlin Wall, and the Cold War. It does an excellent job of provoking thought without being too heavy handed, and has some great twists that keep you alert and wondering what will happen next.
Flanagan, Mary. Critical Play: Radical Game Design. The MIT Press, 2013.