– Cindy Ou
I am a 165 cm tall Asian girl that fights for human rights by day and battle monsters by night. I have an older brother that is 13 years older than me and as a child I always wanted to hang out with him. Unfortunately, my affection was more like an annoyance and so he would ignore me and play games and I, being clingy, would watch. Soon he even taught me how to play Counter-Strike at a ripe age of 10. In retrospect, he probably thought it was hilarious to see his 10 year old baby sister manage to snipe one of his friends. Regardless, I had developed an interest in games through the influence of my big brother.
Last year, after graduation I founded an indie game review website, www.thesebie.com because I wanted to write about how awesome this one game was. It was touching and quite frankly, really hit the feels. This game was called “To the Moon”. A month after creating the website, I began an internship with Amnesty International where we fight against injustices in the world. As wonderful as this internship is, one can only deal with so many torture, persecution, refugees, corruption, execution, censorship, unfair trials, and detainment cases a day. So I go home and play games.
This collaboration with Project 40 Collective is a merging of my two interests. With help from my content creation team and from Project 40, I hope to show how games can reflect, unpack, and reveal the significance of social issues through a variety of methods. We will examine four methods: role-playing, decision-making, narration, and puzzles. The games that we will present will have one or more of these methods.
Papers, Please – An eerily close reflection of the reality of refugees
Papers, Please is simulation game developed by Lucas Pope and is published under 3909 LLC. It is available for purchase on Steam for 9.99 USD.
Some games are meant to be instantly gratifying, where headshots give you a satisfactory announcement and kill counts equate to money. Papers, Please is the opposite. You are forced to role-play as an immigration officer at the border of the fictitious country of Arstotzka, an authoritarian state. Throughout the game you are faced with seemingly random events that forces you to consider your own morals.
For instance, a spy approaches your booth and explains to you that he is with an organization that plans to overthrow Arstotzka and establish a democratic government. Do you a) help the spy or b) report him? What if helping him results in a pay cut? What if helping him results in the death of your relative? Your son? Perhaps you may consider the questions of “What is the point of democracy when my family and I are alive?” Would you report the spy?
These questions become more prevalent as the political situations worsen and incoming foreigners must provide more and more documents. You have to memorize the rules and cross-check what they say they’re doing against what is written on the document. (eg Foreigner says he is here for temporary labour work but his visa is for tourism). The game demands your concentration by docking your pay when you misjudge a person- what’s more your pay is also dependent on how many people you pass or reject per day. So you must quickly and accurately judge each person that comes to your booth. While all this is happening there are also terrorists blowing up the border every now and then.
Sound familiar? The threat of terrorism and the issue of migrants and refugees is very real in the world today. In the Balkan countries, they are struggling to keep up with the number of refugees fleeing their homes. Even developed countries like Austria created a 3500 people cap per day in order to stem the flow of migrants. In our fictitious country of Arstotzka, they heavily limited the amount of people coming through in fear of terrorists and other unwanted individuals. In order to control the population mindset, Arstotzka releases frightening information about terrorists in their newspaper to further limit entry from foreigners. The United States is the real life example of this. President Obama originally intended to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees under the tightest conditions (e.g. families with kids only) but was prevented by Congress and by public hysteria at the fear of terrorists and terrifying rumours of bombs. What’s interesting is that just a few weeks ago, there was widespread sympathy towards refugees due to the photo of the drowned toddler on the beach.
In Canada, the Trudeau government is admitting 25,000 Syrian refugees within a 3-4 month period. The astronomical amount of incoming people at the border means immigration officers have a limited amount of time to accurately judge someone’s visa status. Can you imagine the weight of responsibility on these officers? To carry out a humane mission of accepting refugees but at the same time protect your citizens from unwanted threats and attacks with very little time to judge and investigate. Playing Papers, Please gave me a deeper insight into the difficulty of making decisions that must both save the lives of innocents and protect the people of my country.
Papers, Please gives a deeper understanding in the immigration decisions that are happening in real life but also in how we, as humans, judge one another. The game also shows the power of the media to shape our thoughts. The question is then, how do we make decisions and to what extent is it shaped by our morals and values rather than outside influences? How do we judge one another and should we care about people whose lives don’t affect us directly?
“People do not seem to realize that their opinion of the world is also a confession of their character.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Play this game and consider the decisions you make. What does it say about you?
theSebie is an indie game review site started by Cindy back in June 2015. Her and a team of content creators discovered that gaming is a powerful medium that can reflect many of society’s deepest issues.