In times like these, when so many real-world bad guys are taking over the world, spending your spare time defeating virtual bad guys can start to feel a little frivolous. (Although it can be plenty cathartic, too.)
Still, video games can offer more than just escapism. Take Papers, Please, a 2013 point-and-click game available on iOS and Steam. Set in the fictional Eastern Bloc state of Arstotzka in 1982, the game puts you in the shoes of a paper-pushing border agent charged with deciding who enters the country. To do this you have to check each would-be migrant’s documents, including passports, visas, work permits, and listening to their life stories.
The challenge comes in cross-referencing each document with the guidelines doled out – and routinely changed – by the government, which has become increasingly worried about matters of national security. (Sound familiar?) Moral quandaries abound: should you sneak in a few undocumented, worthy-seeming people? Or make a quick buck by palming them off to the guards?
While performing these tasks might sound both tedious and ethically questionable, the game manages the seemingly impossible task of being both engrossing and enlightening: by forcing you to make (sometimes very complicated) decisions about a person’s fate, Papers, Please makes you complicit in the projection of state power, while shining a light on how fascism flourishes in bureaucracy. Nearly four years after its release, it seems as relevant now as it would have in 1982.