The brief film adaption of Lucas Pope’s Papers, Please is now out on YouTube and Steam to watch for free, in case you were hoping for something solemn and tragic to meditate on today.
It runs just short of 10 minutes not including the credits and does a good job of capturing the feel and mechanics of the game while still elevating them with some interesting visual flourishes. There are some montages of the main character combing through documents as the camera zooms in on the specific details he’s comparing but also more human moments as actors stare at one another under the weight of a totalitarian bureaucracy of the made-up state, Arstotzka.
Papers, Please, the game which inspired the short (directed by Nikita Ordynskiy and co-written with Pope and Liliya Tkach) originally came out in 2013 and went on to win awards and critical acclaim for it’s compelling look at border crossings through the eyes of a management sim. Playing the role of inspector, the object of the game is to balance the emotional pleas of the people trying to cross into Arstotzka with your duty to make sure their papers are all in order. After all, you have you’re own job and family to worry about.
The ending of Ordynskiy and Tkach’s narrative-driven version isn’t ambiguous, but its implications are. Without spoiling the film (it’s less than 10 minutes, so seriously stop reading if you haven’t already and go watch it), I think it misses some opportunities to dispense with trying to simulate some of the gamier elements of Pope’s Papers, Please and instead focus more on how the mundane qualities of human behavior will find their way into any system and gum up the works. To this point, my favorite part of the entire thing comes in the opening seconds when the inspector is setting up for his day at the office as if it were any routinized job and not a key mechanism within some larger, bewildering human sorting machine.