‘Papers, Please’ Is Frighteningly Resonant in Trump's America

What to do when "just doing your job" puts you on the wrong side of morality.

by Dawn Saas
Apr 9 2017, 9:55pm

"After six long years, can the Ministry of Admissions keep us safe?"

That newspaper headline greets you at the beginning of Lucas Pope's Papers, Please. The borders of the fictional post-Soviet autocracy Arstotzka are opened for the first time in years, and you are one of the everyday citizens tasked with securing your nation's borders. Every day, there are new rules limiting who you can allow into the country. You will deny far more people than you admit.

Papers, Please's relevance has only grown in the four years since its release. We are more than two months removed from Donald Trump's first attempt to implement his Muslim Ban—an executive order barring immigrant and refugee status to residents of seven Muslim majority nations. The ban is dying in the courts, but the situation for many immigrants in America is still a nightmare.

ICE officials are amping up raids on undocumented immigrants across the nation. Even "sanctuary cities"—cities that actively provide refuge to undocumented immigrants—are being actively targeted by the current administration. It's a surge of state-sanctioned cruelty, and being daily executed by working class government officials. People whose hopes, fears, goals, and lives may not be so different from yours or mine.

Papers, Please is an honest examination of the practical limits of resistance for anyone working in immigration and a demonstration of how oppressive states use bureaucracy to obscure their abuses. The increasingly complex rules for who you admit to Arstotzka don't just exist to arbitrarily increase the game's difficulty.

All Papers, Please screenshots courtesy of 3909

It's a bureaucracy suffocating you under an avalanche of regulations, guidelines, and checklists so you don't have time to think about the "why" of what you're doing. The legalistic framework surrounding every aspect of your life and job serves to separate you from your own morality, replacing it with a series of rules and regulations. You may have been assigned a job without consent, you may have to screen refugees and immigrants according to nonsense criteria, and your family can be forcibly relocated at any time… but it's all legal. And if you have a moral problem with any of those laws, confronting them makes you a criminal.

A state that requires self-immolation in the act of genuine resistance is a state designed to enforce compliance. Part of Papers, Please's power is that it doesn't offer you a heroic path out of your dilemma. There are no good options: you're either enforcing these rules and therefore you become part of the problem, or you are doing what you can to subvert those rules, and in doing so, you put your life and the life of your family at risk. All for seemingly meaningless results, since you have so little agency as an inspector that any commonplace acts of defiance seem futile.

Read the rest of the story at Waypoint.