Papers, Please

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By Sam McCoy

Video games are normally not considered to be highly educational, aside from games specifically made to be educational for children.

Other than increased hand-eye coordination skills and reflexes, video games for teens and adults generally do nothing to help the player learn as they play.

But not all games are senseless; one has been able to give me a few lessons on the importance of choices and morality, unlike many video games today, and I think many people can receive some guidance from it.

This game is called Papers, Please and it gives the player the opportunity to learn the harsh lessons of life and the results of their actions.

Set in a fictional, totalitarian country, fresh from a war with a neighboring state, you play as a new border patrol agent checking the passports of both citizens entering and foreigners attempting to sneak inside.

Your job is to ask for each person’s documents and verify them with a handy rule book at your side.

The problem is that many potential entrants have fake documents with the smallest detail incorrect.

Should you miss that detail and allow them inside, you will be penalized by your government, while doing so three times brings about your death for incompetency.

However, there is a human side to this. Some people will arrive with incomplete documents but will obviously be citizens.

Regardless, your job is to not let them in if their papers do not match your conditions.

As a player, you end up feeling bad about this because you know that they will never get home and will probably die attempting to jump the border.

One scenario that occurs involves a married couple, with the husband having his papers complete while the wife has some inconsistencies. She is obviously a citizen yet you are forced to decide whether to let her in and possibly sacrifice yourself or deny her and break up their marriage.

There are many choices like this within the game and they are all difficult, and sometimes heartbreaking.

Possibly one of the most crucial aspects of the game is that, while maintaining your job, you gain small amounts of money for every person that you pass through the border.

You must use this to manage your home life in-between levels: keeping your family of five (including yourself) fed, warm, and treated medically while paying bills and hoping to keep some for your savings.

However it rarely works out to where the player can pay for everything and they must choose between paying the bills or feeding everybody or having one of the family die because they became sick.

Ultimately, this resembles the hard decisions that many of us have to make in life in order to survive.

Papers, Please can teach just the same as a math game for children. However, the difference is that the player learns about themselves in the process rather than how to count.

In the game, the player thinks about how to handle a questionable situation and is required to decide outside of the game if they are morally capable of condemning a person because of a set of rules that they need to follow.

Meanwhile, they also begin to meticulously scan their rule book, comparing it to the papers of potential entrants. One wrong decision could cost you your life, so you need to be absolutely sure that you’ve checked everything.

All of this holds true in real life, as people are forced to decide how to handle situations that could change their entire future if they choose incorrectly. A person must also consider if they are morally capable of doing something, especially if they have never been in that situation before.

Many people could learn from Papers, Please, as it gives guidance in how to deal with difficult situations while keeping their own beliefs in mind.