Wot I Think: Papers, Please

By John Walker on August 12th, 2013 at 9:00 pm.

Papers, Please is a pretty effective way of having you take a look around yourself, and feel damned grateful for what you’ve got. Unless you’re reading this in a country for which the dystopian themes of Papers Please’s oppressive border controls and poverty-stricken workers are all too familiar, in which case please have some of my Western guilt. You’re a border guard, and your job is to either let or not let people through. And that really is it. Which makes it kind of weird that it’s so utterly compelling that I’ve overworked today by three hours so far, and don’t seem to be stopping. Here’s wot I think:

Set in 1982, in the fictional Soviet-like nation of Arstotzka, this is a game of bureaucracy, cruelty and poverty. And stamps. And paperwork. And secret underground operatives who woo you into their dangerous world of spies. Although only via paperwork. Its lofi graphics and static setting join its focus on mundanity and repetition under pressure to suggest something that sounds about as far away from “game” as you might imagine. And yet remains an engrossing, creeping affair, almost rogue-like in its grip on you to last longer, work faster, abandon principles more freely, and compromise integrity with ever-more consummate ease.

You play in days, each racing past at a terrifying rate. You’re paid per person processed, so speed is essential if you’re going to be able to keep your extended family safe under your roof, with food, heat and medicine, and maybe even birthday presents. But as each day passes, the bureaucracy grows, the required observation and effort on your part increases, and the complexity of correctly scrutinising the papers of every entrant to the country becomes always more elaborate. It is, in short, difficult.

A couple of weeks in, if you manage to keep your job for that long, and indeed keep your family alive, things might go like this: Man arrives, offers his passport, entry permit, work pass and identity supplement. You need to check his name against the permit and work order, then his passport number against the permit, along with the expiry dates for all four against today’s date. And his photo with his face, obviously. And his gender – if that doesn’t look like it matches up, it’s time for a scan, which will show him or her naked. Check his weight and height against the measurements listed on the ID supplement, as well as the short description listed there. Then you need to make sure the reason for entering and duration he states matches up to those listed in the paperwork, spot if his date of birth is a real date, check that the issuing town listed on the passport really issues passports according to your rulebook, and that the symbols on everything match up to the official ones. Oh, and make sure his face is not on that day’s Most Wanted list, and ensure he’s not someone you’re supposed to illegally let through if you’re willingly helping the secretive organisation.

For each person.

And if you’re not processing around eight or so in the extremely brief days, you’re in trouble. And you’re definitely in trouble if a terrorist breaks through and causes the whole place to be shut down early. No savings? No food that night.

So why is this interesting, even entertaining? It’s partly just down to the very basics of puzzles. From spot-the-difference to intricate logic problems, such data matching is an intrinsically satisfying process. Noticing an anomaly triggers a reward mechanism in your brain, and you feel on top of things. And it’s partly down to the desire to find out what’s going to happen next, what are these illicit actions gaining you, what will change in the relations between Arstotzka and its neighbours? Will your son survive his illness to see his next birthday?

It’s also deeply grim. Papers Please explores that intriguing space between what you’ll do to see a narrative progress, and what you’re just too uncomfortable to do even in fiction. Will you allow a resident trafficker back into the country, after an appeal from a girl who knows he plans to enslave her into prostitution? No? Will you do it because if you don’t it will cost you 5 moneys in fines, and you won’t be able to feed your children as a result? When you’ve got the choice between sending someone away with their faked documentation, or having them arrested by your clearly horrific government, which way will you go? And is it the same way once a guard offers to cut you in on the profits of detaining more people, such that you can put the heating on that night?

It’s all excellently put together, perfectly paced, and ridiculously gripping for something that is, after all, paperwork. But it’s not until you play a second time that you realise the game’s shortcomings.

And play a second time you’ll want to, because of that not-quite-rogue-like element. Fail and you’ll know there was so much further to get, and while the game lets you pick up from any of the previous days, there’s a good chance you’ll be in so deep a hole that you’ll prefer to take another run at it from the start. Do this, and you discover just how much is – seemingly needlessly – scripted. While most of the people who walk through your booth are randomised, their discrepancies different each time through, a surprising number of the plotted encounters are discovered to be fixed in position. The same person, on the same day, with the same note, for the same character, at the same time.

It seems odd that these important plot points (which are removed entirely if you’d prefer to play the high-score driven Endless mode instead) couldn’t be slightly randomised themselves. Appear on a day either side, or feature different names to look out for. The amusing gentleman who attempts to get through with a hand-drawn passport has his own cute little arc, but it’s the same arc each time, on the same days, in the same way.

It’s not a massively serious issue, and being able to pick up after the first week or two means cutting out repeating a lot of it, but it really does seem like a missed opportunity to mix things up a little and create something more desirably replayable.

At £7, Papers, Please is unquestionably something unique. (Queue comment about the Amstrad CPC game that came out only in Cyprus.) It is, undeniably, a paperwork sim. And perhaps that’s enough to put some off it entirely. But it’s definitely worth getting past that (otherwise entirely sensible) prejudice in this case. It’s peculiarly engrossing, darkly ominous, and a fascinating exploration of morality versus progress. And you get to ker-chunk the big DENIED stamp, and that’s always fun.

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94 Comments »

  1. Premium User Badge

    phuzz says:

    The first thing I noticed was that you’d cut the clock off in those screenshots so I couldn’t check the expiry dates. :(
    Otherwise this WOT pretty much chimes with my thoughts; a fun game but without as much replayability as, say, FTL.
    It really shouldn’t be this much fun checking documentation, but somehow it is.

    • HothMonster says:

      Yeah I downloaded the demo expecting to not really enjoy it and bought the full version about 20 minutes later. Oddly addictive.

      It’s a hard sell too. My SO found me playing it and trying to explain it to her only illicited, “that sounds stupid and boring,” no matter what I said. So I made her download the demo version, she played for about 10 minutes before saying, “I don’t know why I like this so much,” and playing for 4 hours.

      • Premium User Badge

        RedViv says:

        My dame went from “Huh. So you’re just controlling passports? Meh.” to not letting me play the damn game myself. Hmph.

        • Saiko Kila says:

          I wonder whether people who do the paperwork themselves in their life would find this game entertaining?

          • TechnicalBen says:

            No it’s torture. So many memories. Too add to it, I’m dyslexic, and swap letters/numbers over in my head automatically. I could “spot the difference” or “spot wally” anyday, but letters/numbers? No chance. :(

            Still, love the game!

          • sinister agent says:

            It adds another dimension, of eerie familiarity. Do the job right or hash it out to get the line moving faster, regardless of any problems it may cause? Also that ever-present paranoia that no matter how careful you are, you’ve overlooked something.

  2. Jim Rossignol says:

    This sounds amazing. *Adds to pile.*

    • Premium User Badge

      JR says:

      Simultaneously the best and worst things about the current indie explosion. So many fantastic titles, so little time.

    • MadJax says:

      Who let you out of the Big Robot cage? Back to work, my good man!

  3. dagudman says:

    It’s always fun ruining people’s passports by stamping the big red denial over their photos.

  4. S Jay says:

    Great game indeed, but the lack of replayability to check all 25 endings is a bit bad indeed.

    • Carbonated Dan says:

      in deed

    • mouton says:

      Many of them are circumstantial, “awarded” for things like shooting guards or civilians, disobeying orders etc. There are maybe 4 main endings (with small variations) or so and to get them all maybe two playthroughs are needed – with small branching here and there using quite wonderful save system. The main factor being whether you help certain group of people or not.

  5. mouton says:

    This game is wonderful. Buy it, steal it, whatever. Just play it.

    Glory to Arstotzka.

  6. Muzman says:

    I noticed that repetition in the demo and was hoping it’d be gone by the release. Pity.
    I could see that adding a whole extra layer; what day X event happens, when a new security layer comes online or person Y comes through could change the timing a lot here and there. Altering whether or not you get that last one through this time around, or elect to not check someone and chance the reprimand to get a bit of extra cash.
    Even if the events did repeat themselves, just shifting them around slightly could alter a ton. Before you knew when it would happen that feeling of “Please don’t be a terrorist day. Please don’t be a terrorist day!” was pretty cool.

    I wonder if you could do it in a patch without a great deal of pain.

  7. Premium User Badge

    Hanban says:

    Man I really loved “fake passport guy”.

    *MINOR SPOILER AHEAD* It was really weird when he finally had all his paperwork in order. It made me slightly confused in my suspicion but also happy that he finally got in. “Uuuuh… I guess… I guess you’re clear to enter the country then.”

    • Premium User Badge

      pailhoarse says:

      I agree… I triple-checked all of his paperwork, uncertain as to whether or not I’d passed over some tiny fault. Terrified to grant him entry into the country, the little clock on my counter ticking away… sealing my fate with a press of the green stamp, then watching his little silhouette trudge across the border, waiting for the telltale dot-matrix “zzzt-zzzt” to tell me I fucked it all up. Cursing my ineptitude when it happened… disbelieving when it didn’t… but no time for relief because there’s another poor sod coming up to my window…

      Actually, it was like that for everyone I admitted. Even (especially?) the ones who were easy checks, with all their paperwork in order.

      • povu says:

        It’s so easy to second guess yourself. ‘This seems too easy, didn’t I miss anything?’ ‘This person says she’s glad to have the proper papers, is she trying to trick me?’ ‘Is this person’s height actually correct?’

      • Premium User Badge

        Sunjumper says:

        That scene is also a perfect example for how absurd all these rules and regulations are. How little they serve to keep anyone who is truly dangerous out and how easy bureaucracies make to punish the innocent.

        • Premium User Badge

          Schmudley says:

          What really got me is the little thrill you sometimes get when you spot a mistake right away. Sweet, I can process an extra one quickly and maybe have enough money for my son’s birthday present! And now I realise I’m happy because of the random misfortune of another human being.

          Also, that horrible, dreadful, eternal second between allowing someone through and waiting for the warning notice… and then not getting it.

    • Turkey says:

      I liked the guy who gives you shit about your “adequate” plaque.

      I’ve spent 10X more time with Spelunky over the weekend, tho.

      • JackShandy says:

        Bet you must think your ‘Adequate’ plaque makes you a big man around here, show-off. I only got ‘Sufficient’.

      • benkc says:

        My plaque merely says that I was present.

        I’m not very good at this game.

    • belgand says:

      Odd. After playing the demo I hated him. But what I hated even more is that I wasn’t able to arrest him immediately for trying to enter into the country with obviously forged documents. I don’t even want a cut from the guards (in fact, I’d like the abilty to report that guard as well). It’s simply the correct thing to do. That was probably one of my biggest complaints about the game: not being able to arrest people with forged documents often enough. Oh and trying to make people with forged documents seem sympathetic in a rather manipulative fashion.

      • gyabou says:

        Don’t hate Jorgi. If you play the full game you will discover he is the best person in the entire game. A criminal, definitely, but strangely pure of heart.

        Some people with forged documents are bad. Some are terrorists. Some are revolutionaries. Some are regular people who are desperate. Depending on what ending you pursue, you might discover what it’s like to be on the other side of that equation, too.

      • Sheng-ji says:

        Arrest them? Spending your countries limited resources on taking people across your border and holding them in a facility where you are required to feed them, supply them with water, guard them and generate a tonne more paperwork which needs to be sorted out by paid bureaucrats… Surely just turn them away unless they are a threat to national security, no?

        • pupsikaso says:

          Feed them? Supply them with water?
          What are you talking about?

      • HothMonster says:

        You don’t have the ability to detain the first time he shows up. One of the early days you get that ability added to your booth though. Then you just need to question people about inconsistencies and you can arrest them. Any inconsistency except expired papers is an arrest-able offence.

  8. biggergun says:

    I just came back from the customs office and they said they are detaining your shipment of guilt indefinitely unless I pay two exorbitant taxes, fill in eleven copies of form 2B by hand in blue ink, and then stand on my head for half an hour singing the national anthem. So, not much help. Sorry. Also, all hail the Great Leader.

  9. LionsPhil says:

    The free/demo version of this was neat, but just too stressful, and somehow not the adrenaline of, say, hoping a guard doesn’t spot you in Dishonored, but the same kind of stressful that gets burnt out during the dayjob even though my dayjob isn’t having people dragged away and shot.

    • Bull0 says:

      That sounds like my experience with the full version. I applaud the design and the execution, and the setting drips with atmosphere and tension, but the act of playing it is more stressful and tense than enjoyable or rewarding. I guess it could do with a few lighter moments to break the tension? A bit more of a cadence, instead of unrelenting dread and difficulty curving? I dunno. I’m not a game designer. I’m satisfied with it, but having got a couple of unpleasant endings quite quickly I don’t think I’m going to give it much more of my time. £7? Happy.

  10. oldasadlo says:

    this game is really something. i like the atmosphere, incredibly grim and dull – nicely resonating with rather pale colors. the game is not very replayable, but this is solved quite well with story branches – you can try quite many endings during one play. anyway, i don’t think this issue hurts the game very much: those hard choices you have to make so often have even more severe impact.

  11. Premium User Badge

    pailhoarse says:

    Everything about this game is great, though I agree with the limited playability of the Story mode. There’s flashes of pathos and humor that highlight the mundanity of your little visa-stamping job. The sound design is fantastic – from the music to the flatness of the “voices” of the characters – the latter reinforcing the oppressive atmosphere and same-shit-different-dayness.

    I never knew a never-ending line of potential border-crossers and little gun-toting guard silhouettes could make me feel so….angsty.

    Got 4 out of 20 endings so far. Love it.

  12. Drake Sigar says:

    I’m approaching the end now and let me tell you, any morals I had are out the window at this point. The Investigator scares me silly.

    • revan says:

      That’s why I’ve eloped long before he came back. Glory to Obristan! My poor niece…

  13. FurryLippedSquid says:

    I hear this is going down a storm in Gibraltar.

  14. Shazbut says:

    Things I want to say.

    1 – It’s brilliant
    2 – I’ve rarely felt so simultaneously powerful and vulnerable playing a game
    3 – It’s aesthetics, mechanics, and story are cohesive on a level with Hotline Miami and it deserves pages of analysis
    4 – I don’t remember a game that has ever punished me before. And punished not due to a lack of skill per se, but due to just a human oversight, to not paying enough attention. When those citations come, they almost call me physical pain. It’s like being whipped.
    5. – Your motivations are genuinely affected. I intended to play as the perfect employee the first time around, but something happened which made me choose to switch.
    6. – Glory to Arstotska

  15. Shiri says:

    One thing I should point out is that no one seems to have more than one discrete problem. That is, someone will only have a bad date OR a bad photo OR a bad purpose claim. This is relevant because if you look at the purpose claim first, checking that out and then solving it means you (as far as I know) don’t have to go through all the rest of the procedure, so you get more time. When I say discrete, btw, I mean someone can have an incorrect gender, and then you check the real gender with the scanner and that can be incorrect too, but that’s part of the same package. Conversely, if their gender ISN’T incorrect after scanning you can get away with passing them through.

    • Ralphomon says:

      The only time this happened to me was when I was halfway through quizzing a guy about the mismatch between his passport number and his entry permit, and I realised that he had an Imporian passport and thus wasn’t allowed into the country anyway.

  16. Lone Gunman says:

    How much does it differ from the free Beta version?

    I have been enjoying it a lot but not sure I want to pay £7 for something similar. That and I am poor, in a western way, not a Arstotzka way :p

  17. Rippentrop says:

    Also don’t forget to play another dystopian game from the same creator, located in the same ‘universe’: http://dukope.com/play.php?g=trt

  18. Premium User Badge

    golem09 says:

    “And you get to ker-chunk the big DENIED stamp, and that’s always fun.”

    Is it really always?

  19. Premium User Badge

    maninahat says:

    It’s depressingly similar to my job. Not that I live in a communist totalitarian state or have to have dissidents shot. The prospect of going through stacks of papers,ruthlessly putting members of the public through seemingly needless grief and anxiety, and generally being a despicable bureaucrat is however very familiar.

    • Premium User Badge

      Sunjumper says:

      What I learned from the game is that whenever I can I will break the rules to the benefit of the people being sent into my little meat-grinder of the soul border post.

      Do you ever give in to humanity in your job?

      • belgand says:

        Odd, I had exactly the opposite experience. I grew to hate people who tried to get pass off cheap, obvious forgeries for wasting my time. I couldn’t throw them in jail fast enough and when they wouldn’t let me do that I often become upset at the system that was so soft on these vile rule-breakers. And it wasn’t because of my “family” either. I mean, really? They’re just a list on a screen. I don’t care about them at all. I don’t even like children. Why won’t they just die sooner so I don’t have to spend money on them? The game tries to make your heart bleed one way or the other, but both come off as cheap and manipulative. There’s simply no place for people who break the rules.

        • Premium User Badge

          Harlander says:

          It’s interesting to see your viewpoint on this game, Judge Dredd

        • Premium User Badge

          cpt_freakout says:

          Let me summarize your opinion: Glory to Arstotzka.

        • Lone Gunman says:

          Do you fail to emphasize with fictional characters in books as they are just made up of words?

        • pupsikaso says:

          I also ruthlessly deny and detain any fakes, but for different reasons (made up or not). Any one with a fake passport pleading to be let in because he might be killed if he goes back could be a terrorist. You decide to take pity on him solely on his pleading words, but then he blows himself up and kills 3 guards.

          That’s 3 lives on your head. What if one of the people he blew up was someone from your family? I just couldn’t afford to take that kind of risk.

  20. Premium User Badge

    Gap Gen says:

    “Unless you’re reading this in a country for which the dystopian themes of Papers Please’s oppressive border controls and poverty-stricken workers are all too familiar, in which case please have some of my Western guilt.”

    I think some of the readers here are from the US.

    • Premium User Badge

      RedViv says:

      Well done. Here, have cookie for good time!

    • derbefrier says:

      and I think you don’t have a clue about the state of immigration in our country. not only do we let more legal immigrants in this country every year than any others but also more illegals since our federal government refuses to enforce immigration laws. I know you meant that as a joke but its complexly off base.

      • RanDomino says:

        Dear Jolly English Chaps/Chapesses,
        Please ignore this sorry example of one of our unfortunate phenomenon of rage-filled “teabaggers”. They are the sort of people who find no irony or satire in fine video-games such as Papers If You Would Please (since they see nothing wrong with dehumanizing border control or atomized workers feeling forced to make horrible choices in order to provide for their families) or Grand Theft Automobiles (as they genuinely believe that persons of darker complexion spend most of their time carjacking and/or murdering). It will only be a matter of time before they all simultaneously forget how to breathe and then we will be rid of them.
        Sincerely,
        America

  21. denizsi says:

    Reminds me of my Schengen Visa applications into EU zone. One time, I applied for Schengen Visa to Czech Republic. At the time, I had visited Prague about five years prior, so when asked if I had visited CZR previously, naturally I said yes. Then the papers guy asked me where I have visited in CZR. I said Prague. “Anywhere else?” he asked and I casually mentioned a music festival I attended in some village to the north of Prague. Then he asked me the name of the village. That’s some village I’ve seen only for a half day, named in a language I don’t know, all of which I barely remember. So I said I have no idea, I don’t remember. Then he goes “hmmmmm… so you went to some village and you don’t even know the name. oh-kay…”.

    For anyone starting a sentence with something like “I don’t live in a totalitarian state but”; you gotta see first hand the completely humiliating and dehumanizing procedures of Schengen Visa applications for non-US & non-UK people, sponsored by your totally-not-totalitarian EU states.

    • Apolloin says:

      The super-humorous thing about this anecdote is that literally every country has a shitty immigration system – it’s just that natives have no idea, because they don’t go through it.

      US Immigration? AWFUL.
      Canadian Immigration? SOUL DESTROYING
      UK Immigration? HELLISH

      The only exception is, in my experience, working in a Schengen country if you come from a Schengen country. When I went to work in the Netherlands it took me about half an hour to get my SOFI nummer and then I was a happily productive permanent-resident – contributing my taxes to the mighty Oranje Empire.

      • VindicatorSteve says:

        I *HATE* US immigration with a passion, and dislike going through that dance every time I visit.

        UK immigration is funny in my experience, because I get twenty questions and asked for proof, but only every second time — for example, my last visit to London I got asked who my employer was, where they were based and how long my stay was. The visit before that I was asked that and a lot besides and they wanted to see proof, even going so far as to ask me if I happened to have a recent payslip on me.

        • Premium User Badge

          jrodman says:

          Do modern employees actually get paper payslips? I haven’t for around a decade.

      • mouton says:

        Heh, people criticize EU endlessly, but we oh-so-quickly forget how shitty it was when we didn’t have it. And yet so many think a return to atomized “dignified” nation states is the way to go.

    • revan says:

      Schengen Visa application process was/is a total humiliation. Made you feel like an ant about to be stepped on by a giant. I remember going to Britain at the end of the 90s with my parents and they were grilling us so much in the embassy that I thought: “This isn’t worth the trouble. Let’s just get out of here.” Luckily that’s all in the past. No more passport controls, let alone visa applications.

  22. Scurra says:

    ” (Queue comment about the Amstrad CPC game that came out only in Cyprus.) ”
    That should be “Cue comment…” I don’t know why pedantry always feels so good.
    I haven’t played this yet, but I do recall a silly little game called Floor 13 which turned international espionage into the reality of tedious bureaucracy.

  23. MadJax says:

    Good review of an excellent game, but sorry.. “overworked by 3 hours”… you play and review games.. a dream job for many.. you’re only overworked if you had to go back to “They’re back!” And review Daikatana, Barbies Horse Adventure and MLP: The “brony” game :P

    • Dozer says:

      “Playing and writing about computer games isn’t work!”

      Per the rules of the Gaming Journalist Drinking Game, everyone has to take a shot. Cheers!

      *chug*

      • Premium User Badge

        jrodman says:

        Aww, I thought you said (in the ticker) something like “Games Journalism doesn’t work!” which is a much more interesting (wrong or right comment).

        Seriously some of the most heartwarming conversations I’ve ever had are cross-disciplinary rants about how ” doesn’t work.” We had about 6 consective rants entitled “Education doesn’t work.” “programming doesn’t work” “Tech support doesn’t work.” “Modern medicine doesn’t work.” and “project management doesn’t work.” where we all from years of scars and battles outlined what is broken and nonfunctional in our career areas. I felt fantastic.

        But back on topic, *takes swig of pear cider*.

    • John Walker says:

      Hey, I’d worked eleven hours by the end of yesterday! With a cold!

    • Drake Sigar says:

      That’s the attitude which sees games developers working slave hours with a job they’ll likely be fired from mere seconds after they’ve finished the project.

      • MadJax says:

        Sorry Drake, but as much work as it is to put across your opinion on a game and how it plays in a creative way, any person with a vague knowledge of software development can agree that it pales in comparison to developing a game. My comment was nothing to do with the development of any game and was meant in jest. The simple joke was that reviewing an enjoyable game doesn’t classify as “work” in the mind numbing tediousness that we classify it as, but more an extension of our shared hobby.

  24. Fenix says:

    “Unless you’re reading this in a country for which the dystopian themes of Papers Please’s oppressive border controls and poverty-stricken workers are all too familiar”
    I live in Iran and they indeed are!

  25. dolgion1 says:

    I think I might pick it up, but Spelunky has been occupying me wonderfully of late.
    Will there be a review of Spelunky?

  26. DasBlob says:

    I am reading this, and Google Ad Services has placed an advert for Instant Checkmate on this page:

    “Did you know Arrest Records are available Online for ANYONE to see? View criminal records online. Check anyone’s arrest record in seconds! Are your’s online? Friends? Family?”

    With it’s mugshots, the advert even looks like that game a bit.

    Somehow, that struck me as funny. Or worrying. Maybe both.

  27. revan says:

    I’ll just say that I was stamping passports well into the night over the weekend. Oh… and I ended up in the gulag for not letting through some lady friend of my supervisor (her diplomatic credentials didn’t match up and I sent her to the gulag).

  28. olemars says:

    While more variation in the events would have been nice, I think the (solo) developer found the perfect balance in design and features for the game he wanted to make. Fixed events are easier to make and allowed him to focus on details, which there are heaps of.

    And I’m extremely impressed by what he managed to cram into the game in the few months between the 8 day demo and the finished release.

  29. Premium User Badge

    barelyhomosapien says:

    It’s funny, I loved this game while I was playing it, but I’m now hesitant to go back and finish it knowing the constant faint terror of failure awaits.

  30. LennyLeonardo says:

    Yeah, this game is really something special. The pain of getting a citation when you were sure everything was in order is like nothing else. It’s weird how tactile it is as well, all the shuffling and ordering of documents, and the chunky stamping, and the little tinkle when you drop a locket or a pin on the desk.

  31. fitzroy_doll says:

    Sounds like the right game at the right time.

  32. mbp says:

    Is there a penalty for denying a valid case? Surely there is a big temptation to deny half the applications out of hand just to buy yourself more time. In fact that is probably quite realistic too.

    • GuybrushThreepwood says:

      The penalty for denying a valid case is identical to failing to deny a flawed set of documents – 5 bucks and a strike on your record.

      Glory to Arstotzka.

  33. xfstef says:

    *Takes all of John’s Western Guilt and his bike …*

  34. Eschatos says:

    That’s an interesting concept, but it doesn’t look even vaguely fun.

    • NotGodot says:

      It is, sort of? I mean, not really. But it’s got something that’s similar to fun going on that keeps you in it. It’s fun-adjacent.

    • benkc says:

      Fun isn’t the right word. Engaging would be more apt.

  35. Don Reba says:

    All those hard choices you describe sound very straightforward to me. Maybe I have to play the game and see for myself. Yeah, I think I’ll do that.

  36. Leb says:

    Israeli occupation the game?

  37. JXSZSMS says:

    Not dystopian enough, for us Chinese who know more or less something about Chinese history. It is a strange mix of many modern elements with an authoritarian picture. Loads of features like “wanted criminals”, “entertainment” section on newspapers, “press(reporter) pass”, “gyms”/”brothels” cards given to the protagonist, professions like “health”, “aviation” etc., are actually quite destructive to the total atmosphere. They shouldn’t be there in a totalitarian state definitely. But in general I appreciate the author’s effort. He might just not want the game to be completely dull anyways.

  38. Sir Motorsheep the Marbled says:

    In 2009, I went by ferry from Azerbaijan to Turkmenistan. The procedures at the Turkmen border are pure real-life comedy. As far as documentation is concerned, Astotzka is liberal compared to Turkmenistan.

    Go to office cubicle, show visa, have visa number recorded, receive slip of paper. Take paper slip to cash desk, pay fee, receive another slip. Take that to another office cubicle, have passport number and name recorded, receive another slip. take that to cash desk, pay fee, receive another slip. Take that to yet another office cubicle….

    Rinse, repeat for at least 6 different office cubicles. It took us a full day to cross the border.