papers please

On Revolutions: Papers, Please and The Republia Times

A much younger Carly Smith bought into the romanticized idea of revolutions. The underdog vs. the bully. The just vs. unjust. Vive la revolution!

In reality, revolutions can't be tied neatly into a bow. The French Revolution's Maximillion Robespierre led a movement of terror. Those in power should be held responsible when their actions hurt the people, but this does not mean the people leading a charge against the corrupt leaders are heroes. They're frequently cut from the same degrading cloth.

Shortly after watching my significant other play Papers, Please and lending my powers of observation to the task of checking passports, I discovered Lucas Pope's The Republia Times, a short browser game he made before Papers, Please. The first thing I thought of when starting my task of assembling propaganda was 1984's protagonist Winston Smith. A part of Winston's job is painting the Party and Big Brother in a positive light through the news. A large revolution never takes place in 1984, but in more modern literature the majority of dystopian fiction offers a glimmer of hope through a revolution. A revolution fought in blood may offer no change besides the face of the people in power.

During The Republia Times, a group will secretly contact you with instructions on joining their revolutionary efforts. Their goal is to take down the government, and so you must start printing stories that paint the government in a negative light. In hindsight, I don't know which stories were true. It's possible none of them got the facts right, and the media was only used to further a political cause. Once the coup d'etat has succeeded, the revolutionaries form the state of Democria, and they keep you on in media to work at the Democria Times.

The mechanics stay the same. The stories are the same. Another revolutionary will contact you for help at some point, and if you help them, Democria is replaced by Republia again. How many times has this gone on in a cycle? Dystopian politics see leaders switching sides as if nothing had ever happened. Winston in 1984 is the only one shocked when the target of the country's attacks switch mid-sentence. Once something has changed, it is supposed to have been that way forever and will always be that way in a process of doublethink, a term Orwell coined in 1984. I couldn't help laughing when I saw nothing change from Republia to Democria.

That brings me to Papers, Please, where you get to decide whether to provide assistance to a revolutionary group that claims it's trying to restore Arstotzka to the way it was before the current government took power. If you assist EZIC the whole way and survive to the end, the group takes down the wall at the border checkpoint, and hundreds of people make their way from West Grestin to East Grestin to visit their friends and families in a moment reminiscent of the destruction of the Berlin Wall. To get to that point, you help EZIC poison someone they claim is an assassin in a classic situation of "who can kill the other first?" Toward the end of the month, EZIC asks the player to kill the assassin.

In the playthrough where we assisted EZIC and overthrew the corrupt Arstotzkan leaders, I couldn't help wondering to myself where Arstotzka would go from here. The game ends, so there's no way to know for sure, but I firmly felt the Arstotzkan people were not safe under EZIC either.