A Movie Can’t Capture the Feeling of Papers, Please

To play Papers, Please is to be stressed. Stamp, stamp, stamp immigration visa after immigration visa as fast as you can, because if you don’t get through enough your family will starve. But don’t make a mistake, because your pay will be docked and your family will starve. Now you’re holding the life of a traveller in your hands, one who is begging you not to have them imprisoned. But if you save them, your family will starve.

Decision after decision like this hinges on you; a relentless rapid fire that can end in any one of twenty ways. It coalesces as a perfect example of mechanics as storytelling; of the benefits that games have over any other medium.

Papers, Please might be a great movie

papers, please
The family photo obscuring the rules is such a good touch

The production pictures posted by developer Lucas Pope look gorgeous, and there’s no reason that a short film can’t meaningfully explore the themes of authoritarianism, border control, and poverty. It’s certainly a good time to do so.

But it’s not been long since Ian Bogost claimed that games shouldn’t tell stories because “film…tell[s] them better,” and so the way in which Papers, Please is stripped and rebuilt for its new medium will be significant.

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Jay Castello

Jay is a freelance games writer specialising in intersectional feminist critique, how to improve games and use them to improve the world, and cute dogs. She loves inhabiting digital spaces in all their forms, and being constantly surprised by just how weird and wonderful games can be.


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