5. Papers, Please
Windows PC, Mac, Steam, GOG
“Papers, Please is one of the most thought-provoking and sneakily fun games in recent memory. The latest from Lucas Pope (whose previous efforts include Helsing’s Fire for iOS) addresses numerous social issues in an organic way without becoming obnoxious or devolving into lazy tokenism, and it manages to accomplish all of that within the context of a paradoxically entertaining bureaucracy.
“For the uninitiated, Papers, Please is a paperwork simulator. You play as a border control agent of the pseudo-Soviet nation of Arstotzka, stamping passports and detaining civilians like it’s your job (which it is). You pick up snippets of people’s lives as they drift through your small phone booth of a world, so that whatever happens to be on their minds inevitably ends up on yours.
“What separates Papers, Please from other titles that purport to offer meaningful moral choice is Pope’s keen understanding of ways in which moral relativism is actually relative. Games like Bioshock offer ‘good’ and ‘evil’ decisions that are so opposite and obvious as to make the options irrelevant, while more nuanced games like Mass Effect usually offer the illusion of choice, presenting the same cut scenes with token nods to player agency…
“[Papers, Please] humanizes the people on the other side of the gate and gives the game a more universal resonance. The metrics of success – food, heat, rent, and etc. – are the few signifiers that cut across every demographic, and anyone who’s ever held down a miserable job with overbearing bosses will be able to relate to those motivations.”
~ From the original review of Papers, Please by Eric Weiss