Years After Release, Papers Please and Republia Times are Scarier (and Realer) Than Ever.

2013’s Papers, Please: A Dystopian Document Thriller  was a well-received look at the bleak life of an immigration worker in the fictional country of Arstotska during the 1980s.  Evoking imagery of the Eastern Bloc, creator Lucas Pope built a series of unsettling scenarios for the player to explore.

Papers, Please: A Dystopian Document Thriller (2013)

As you progress through each day, you’re forced to adhere to the Astotzka’s immigration requirements.  If the government is tightening its borders, expect more rule sets with increased complexity.  Your job (and your ability to care for your family) is dependent on your accuracy and efficiency–make enough mistakes and you’re fired, process papers too slowly and your income (and thereby the well-being of your loved ones) suffers.

Papers, Please was not Pope’s first go at exploring the difficult choices individuals must make under the rule of draconian governments.  In 2012, Pope released The Republia Times a free, browser-based game in which the player assumes the role of an editor-in-chief of the Republia Times immediately following a war and uprising.  As EIC, you are charged with running stories that paint the ruling government in a positive light to instill confidence among the public; the threat of bodily harm to your loved ones prevents you from telling the truth.  In The Republia Times the metrics by which the player is assessed are your readership’s size and loyalty to the government.  The implicit goal is to spread pro-government propaganda to the masses.  It’s less subtle than Papers, Please but still incredibly effective.

The stories crafted by Pope once offered a glimpse into the fascist rule of fictitious nations far far away.

Today, they’re reflections of the political landscape in United States of America.

Pope’s games are even more arresting in the early days of Donald Trump’s presidency.  The Republia Times felt a little like it was beating you over the head with its message in 2012.

The Republia Times (2012)

In 2017, it’s easier for the mind to make the leap from “fake news”, “dishonest media“, and “hit jobs” to a Government-run Ministry of Media controlling all communication with the public.

Forcing the player to make choices is nothing new; virtually every game has choices the player must make to progress the action of the game.  From large AAA blockbusters to smaller indie releases, player choice is a common way to push narrative forward.   The choices players make throughout the game often dictate whether they’re the paragon or the anti-hero.   But those games that can force the player into difficult decisions and pay off with irreparable consequence are rare and special.  The Republia Times and Papers, Please force the player to make and live with their decisions.

Much has been better written about both of these games.  But in 2017, The Republia Times and Papers, Please are scarier and more relevant than ever.