Choice and Consequence in ‘Papers, Please’

Papers, Please

And with this PopMatters post I finish up an unexpected trilogy about morality in video games.

The original post about The Wolf Among Us was supposed to be a one off and then I would go and tackle ideas about other games that had been building up during my inadvertent time off. But then I got those comments that ignored the main thrust of what I was trying to say by highlighting a single choice from that game and so I expanded.

That happened with this post as well. It’s is just a hair under 3000 words. I did not expect it to be anywhere near that long. Starting off I couldn’t muster the energy to move past the first 200. But being detailed in my description and putting the effort in going step by step through the process of putting Papers, Please’s morality on display just made the thing grow and grow. By the end of it I realize that if I really put the work in I could have easily doubled the length of the piece for the sake of thoroughness. And I could made it book length if I really wanted to delve into the subject en whole.

I didn’t even get into the concept of action based mechanics presenting a limited existential view of the world against adventure games’ more eclectic philosophical bases. Or how working for the state as is is itself a moral choice that Papers, Please offers you to undermine. Or how you opportunity to make a choice could be removed from you not by anything the game does, but your own failure to act properly or remember what to do and when. And by focusing on certain incidents I don’t feel I put enough emphasis on how the grind makes you feel in accordance to these moments or how the grind itself can make you fuck up.

In the end I wasn’t writing a book, but an essay for PopMatters. I had to refocus it on my main thesis for all of these posts. Morality is not derived from choice, but from the layered complexity in the options offered by those choices.

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