The Passport Life is Me

video games Apr 7, 2021

After checking their visa and work permit, you stamp yet another passport. One of many throughout the day. Soon after, the sirens blare and the guard announces a terrorist attack. It seems it was the last person you just admitted to the glorious nation of Arstotzka (try pronouncing it!), has blown himself up as a statement.

You worry about the safety of your countrymen. More importantly, you worry that your employer won’t dock your wage for a lackluster check-up. You need that money to pay for food, medicine for your son…and hopefully enough will remain for heating during the winter months.

This doesn’t sound like a fun game, does it?

I assure you, it is.

Papers, Please is the critically acclaimed brainchild of Lucas Pope and was released on August 8th, 2013.

Source: Lucas Pope

The game pits you as a man from the fictional, communist nation of Arstotzka. Jobs are hard to come by, but recently the borders have been opened once more after a civil war. Naturally, you (not like have a choice in the matter here) apply for the job, hoping to take care of your family.

During the first day, you only admit nationals who presumably seek to reunite with their families; or starting a life after an exodus.

Things pick up right after, with gameplay split up by days. At the end of each day, you get your wage. Which is tied directly to the amount of people you’ve processed during that day. Yeah, I know, you’re probably inclined to simulate real-life border control and do things as slow as possible. But…you can’t, as mentioned before, that money goes to taking care of your family. For example, if you don’t have money for food, they will starve. Keep that up, and obviously you’ll be digging their graves soon.

I know what you’re thinking, “Ed, that sounds like a boring, even depressing game. Games are meant to be fun.”

Yes, I know that SOME games are fun. But games are a form of media, just like anything else. You don’t go to watch a drama, expecting explosions, you go watch an action movie. You don’t listen to Soulja Boy, expecting deeper meaning behind his words, you listen to A Tribe Called Quest. The same notion applies to games. Games can be art too, but that’s a discussion for another day. I have digressed enough.


What kept me playing was the colorful cast of people you deal with, and the decisions you’ll have to make regarding them. Do you let a wife follow her husband through the border, even though she’s lacking a few documents? Bear in mind, you’ll get an official warning if you do, and that affects your performance review. Hell, you might even get visited by your boss.

Do you let a serial killer pass, even though he has all the right documents?

What do you do when you see Female on the ID card, but the body scan (reminiscent of the TSA ones) reveals her to be a man?

Do you begin fighting for the insurgency, by delivering messages and letting their members pass through freely? Bear in mind, that the bribes you accept may be discovered by the Arstotzkan police.

And my personal favorite, good ‘ol Jorji (seen below), who first brings a passport that he made with paper and crayons. Subsequent visits soon follow.


Papers, Please takes an idea that has no right to be good entertainment, and converts it successfully. Its subplots are worth paying the entry price for, greatly masking the tediousness of actually having to check all the documents.

Interested in stamping some passports? You can do so via Steam, Good Old Games, the Apple App Store (iPad only) and on Mr. Pope’s website: for the modest sum of $10. C'mon, you drink far more than that on the weekend.

Glory to Arstotzka!!


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