Video Game: Papers, Please

"Papers, please..."
"Here you go. P-please let me in, I've waited for hours."
"Purpose of visit?"
"To read the article."
"Duration of stay?"
"A few minutes."

Papers, Please is a self-styled "Dystopian Document Thriller" game developed by Lucas "dukope" Pope. You play as an unnamed border inspector whose job is to defend the Communist nation of Arstotzka from smugglers, terrorists, and anyone else who happens to have improperly filled out paperwork. You have a family dependent on your wage to keep them warm, healthy and alive. You can follow its devlog here.

After a shortened version of the game served as a beta for several months, the full game was released worldwide on 8 August 2013. A port for the PlayStation Vita was formally announced in August 2014, while an iPad port was released on December 14, 2014. However, a misunderstanding with Apple caused a censored version to be uploaded to the app store; the game was reuploaded uncensored a day later.

It is set in the same universe as Lucas Pope's earlier game The Republia Times, a simpler game about running a newspaper in a totalitarian state.

The website is here.

Glory to Arstotzka for containing examples of the following tropes:

  • Adult Fear:
    • One man will beg you to help him avenge his daughter who was murdered by giving him information on the murderer.
    • There's a couple fleeing a government from another country. The girl's papers do not tally like her boyfriend's.
    • There's a human trafficking ring that exploits both the widespread poverty and the strict border control to trap women in brothels.
    • The inspector's sister gets arrested and her daughter is effectively orphaned; if the inspector can't afford to adopt her or refuses to do so, the niece simply disappears, her fate unknown.
    • If you're personally familiar with life in the Iron Curtain countries from the Cold War era, this game will hit you right in the gut, especially if you've ever had to deal with a Internal Security officer like Vonel.
    • Your family is constantly entirely dependent on your hard work to stay healthy and fed. Fail to keep up adequate living standards, and they will fall ill and die. If every family member dies, the game ends, as the position of border inspector is given to someone else who can maintain a large, healthy family properly.
    • On the other hand, if your savings account dries up and you can't pay rent, you go to prison for having outstanding debts. You and your family are effectively set towards an uncertain and unfavorable fate.
  • Affably Evil: What counts as evil is up for debate in a story so heavily mired in Grey and Grey Morality, but in the sense that he's a criminal (and likely would be considered "evil" in any normal story), Jorji is definitely this. Sure, he's a drug dealer, a smuggler, and possibly a black market mastermind, but he's also the friendliest, most polite and most cheerful person you'll ever meet. The Inspector can also be this, if you play him correctly.
  • Anti-Frustration Features:
    • It is possible to re-load your game from any day from any play through. So if you get a Non-Standard Game Over, it is a simple matter to pick up where you left off and not having to start the whole game over.
    • You're notified with a citation within seconds of making a mistake, since it would be frustrating to not know until later.
    • For those with bad aim, missing a shot when using the tranquilizer rifle still nets you a small bonus of 10 credits to compensate for the missed work.
    • The clock for the day doesn't start counting down until you call in the first entrant. That way, you can review new rules and paperwork or get your desk arranged how you want it with no time pressure.
    • Easy Mode gives you 20 credits per day with no strings attached which provides a safety cushion (or crutch as it's mockingly called) to ease the sting on your wallet.
  • Anti-Villain: You, if you play the game right and take the high moral ground on the occasions you can. You're an employee of a frankly hellish government, but you aren't malevolent at all and just want things to run smoothly and your family to be warm and fed.
  • Asshole Victim:
    • While it's possible to detain the escaped serial child killer without any bloodshed, it's hard to feel too bad for him if the inspector gets on board with the revenge plot that ends with the father of one of his victims gruesomely murdering him.
    • Dimitri is very rude towards the inspector, insulting him if he's made even one mistake, and later on demanding to let a lover through the checkpoint even though she's missing authorization. Denying Shae entry angers and humiliates him, which is as much revenge as the player can get without triggering a bad ending.
  • Badass Bureaucrat: Your job is to check people's papers ... until you're issued a tranquilizer gun and tasked with securing the border should issues arise.
  • Bad Boss: Dimitri. He insults the Inspector to his face if he got just one citation, demands that he do personal favours without pulling any strings to ensure he gets no citations while doing so, and doles out harsh punishments just for decorating the station. Pissing him off enough will also get you sent to the gulags.
  • Being Good Sucks: You can try to let in people with sob stories and improper paperwork, but the citations for not doing your job will catch up with you, get your pay docked and your family in dire straits; of course, this isn't really a problem if you're good at the game.
  • Beleaguered Bureaucrat: You will feel the time pressure, especially in the late-game when each entrant needs three or four pieces of complicated paperwork to get in.
  • Benevolent Conspiracy: However you interpret the group, you cannot deny that EZIC tries to take good care of you. When you accept their $1,000 gift, the ministry of income confiscates your savings and investigates you. When the EZIC gets word of it, they send an agent (whom you must approve entry of) to help 'take care' of that for you. You won't get your savings back, but at least you won't get into trouble, and they've learned from this and decided to keep their gifts modest from now on. In the ending where you help them, they stay true to their word all the time and even send a messenger to warn you about an incoming attack from their agents and asks you to hold your fire. If you do that and let them do their thing, which is to bomb a hole in the border wall, they happily accept you among their ranks and even provide you and your family a safer place to live.
  • Blatant Lies:
    • Certain discrepancies, such as the weight of the applicant not matching up with the weight given on their papers or their being from an area flagged for special security measures, require the player to strip search said applicant. The reason given is that "You have been selected for a random search."
    • When you question immigrants on certain discrepancies, they may try to avoid the subject or answer unhelpfully... or just outright lie. One example of an excuse for a passport picture of the entirely wrong person is "The years have been cruel."
  • Big Brother Is Employing You: You are a Border Inspector for an oppressive Communist government, so naturally this trope applies.
  • Bodyguarding a Badass: After the player gets access to the tranquillizer gun, the guards, particularly Sergiu, will start relying on the inspector to keep them safe, despite their superior armament and Sergiu's promise to protect him. Saving Sergiu in the first attack causes him to admit to being part of a Redshirt Army afterwards.
  • Bomb Disposal: One of the scripted events sees a bomb delivered to the booth the player character works in, requiring the player to disarm it.
  • Bomb-Throwing Anarchists: The Kolechians who throw bombs at the guards.
  • Bribe Backfire:
    • Detaining a man who offers a bribe, you say the line: "You cannot bribe an Arstotzkan Officer."
    • The EZIC will attempt to buy your cooperation (or pay you for cooperating) by offering you a package of 1,000 credits. You have the option to burn it. This is actually the best thing to do even if you do intend to cooperate with them, because the massive cash influx will cause internal affairs to audit you.
    • Strangely, bribes include a guard agreeing on giving you a cut of his bonus for every immigrant/citizen you detain (and there is almost always a good reason to do so), and for whatever favors you do for others (such as selling a watch, or receiving money after you approve an immigrant who gives you money for being so kind).
  • But Thou Must: You can't refuse to cooperate with Corman Drex; if you don't give him his piece of paper the first time he comes through, he'll arrive and demand it later, and you won't be able to just detain him. As would be expected, this unpreventable action will not get you in any kind of trouble.
  • Can't Get Away with Nuthin' : The MOA can only do one thing right, and that's to send you a citation when you violate protocol.
  • Checkpoint Charlie: Working at one of these is the primary gameplay element.
  • Cloud Cuckoo Lander: Jorji Costava does not seem to be quite there, as on his first attempt to pass through customs brings no documents at all, declaring instead that "Arstotzka so great, passport not required!", and on his second attempt presents a passport from "Cobrastan" crudely drawn in crayon. No matter how many times you reject or arrest him, he remains upbeat about the whole thing. He happily proclaims that he's smuggling drugs not once, but twice. And he's also ultimately your saviour if you helped EZIC at any point, as he provides a method of escape from the country.
  • Colour-Coded for Your Convenience:
    • Each country uses different colours for its passports.
    • There is a brass key for using a tranq gun, and a silver one for a sniper rifle.
    • The people outside your booth are colour-coded: immigrants are black, guards are blue, Sergiu is green, and the man in red is, well, red.
  • Comically Missing the Point: Early on, Jorji Costava will, as part of a long chain of inept attempts, try to enter Arstotzka with an obviously fake passport. If the player decides to pass him, the citation will ignore the numerous other problems with his papers and focus on the fact that "Cobrastan is not a real country".
  • Commie Nazis: Arstotzka is stylistically Communist and bears certain features of a Communist country (such as the labor lottery), but the obsession with supporting large families, zero tolerance for government workers being in debt, and insanely strict border control all distinctly remind of Fascism as well.
  • Corrupt Bureaucrat: Many entrants will try to bribe you. You can of course accept the money (and then detain them anyway).
  • Crapsack World: Arstotzka is a nasty Ruritania in of itself, but what's worse is that there are people immigrating to it to get away from worse dictatorships.
  • Damn You, Muscle Memory: Your first inclination when coming across a scripted immigrant (whether they comment on the décor in your booth or give you something or whatever) is to assume that they always have their papers in order. Not so. With remarkably few exceptions (most notably the brothel workers), scripted immigrants can have their papers in order or not, just like everyone else. This will throw you for a loop the second time you play through.
  • Determinator: Jorji is really persistent about getting past that border, no matter how many times he gets turned away or detained.
  • The Dev Team Thinks of Everything: If, for some insane reason, you decide to approve Jorji's Cobrastan passport, you will actually get a citation from the Ministry of Admission saying "Cobrastan is not a real country."
    • If you are so inclined, you can highlight the date on the Ministry of Administration Official Bulletin.
    • On day 9 when the guard enters your booth at the start of the day, you will see his weight displayed on your apparatus.
    • On day 29, Jorji will come and will suggest moving to Obristan to escape your audit. He mentions that the forger will need real Obristan passports to make them look authentic. At this point, you would approve his passport and he would give it to you, but you can confiscate it before giving it back to him:
    Jorji: Hey what the hell? You take my passport! You can see it was expensive!
    Inspector: You said I need real Obristan passports.
    Jorji: Man. Fine. I get another but little unhappy about it.
    • You can shoot innocent bystanders or border guards with the tranquilizer gun or sniper rifle to see what happens (or incidentally if your aim is bad). You either get sentenced to death or forced labour depending on the offense.
  • Dirty Communists: Yourself and your fellow Arstotzkan state employees.
  • Disproportionate Retribution:
    • Later in the game, you can detain people for having inconsistent paperwork. However, these inconsistencies in the paperwork could point to something much more sinister. You are not paid to take chances.
    • Your boss sentences you to forced labour for "disobeying a direct order" if you are caught hanging anything but official plaques on the wall for a second time.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: Some would-be immigrants will try to distract the player character by slipping in flyers for a certain Arstotzkan brothel with their official papers. Surprisingly, the brothel workers are scripted, and their papers are always in order, so if a girl hands over a card she can be accepted right away.
  • Dude Looks Like a Lady/Lady Looks Like a Dude: Due to the artistic style, it can be difficult at times to determine the gender of an individual just by looking. However, if you check for discrepancies, you will be able to determine their gender...usually. Sometimes, the game acknowledges the fact that an individual looks much like the opposite gender and lets you classify it as a discrepancy; a scan can quickly fix this, however.
  • Dystopia Is Hard: Arstotzka's border system is a mess of rules that change on a daily basis, yet the system pays so little and has such minor penalties for failure that corruption (whether for personal gain or moral reasons) is almost guaranteed.
  • Eagleland: The United Federation is implied to be such, with its blue passport, eagle diplomatic seal, and computerized border control.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Certain endings in the game, with elements such as the upbeat, cheerful music and optimistic narration, provide a stark contrast to the grim, oppressive nature of the rest of the game.
  • The Eighties: The game is set in late 1982.
  • End Game Results Screen: After each ending, the game shows you the stats on how many people you processed, denied, detained, etc.
  • Endless Game: Unlocked when you get ending 20, or input a numeric code. There are also different modes and modifiers within this mode, including one where you cannot make a single mistake.
  • Epic Fail: The guy who hands over two passports (in different names and places of issue) on day 14. You can even detain him immediately, no need for a check.
  • Even Evil Has Standards:
    • The player character may be part of a corrupt bureaucracy in a dystopian society, but the player doesn't need to be completely heartless in their work. A smuggler trying to bribe you can be told off as you detain him, and a man accused of sex trafficking can be denied or detained despite his paperwork being in order. The game has many choices like this: one can try to do the right thing, or one can focus on doing their job.
    • When a certain terrorist attack occurs, one of the messengers from EZIC appears to inform you that they had nothing to do with it, making a point that they never harm the innocent, and even sends in an agent to investigate for you.
  • Evil Is Easy: In the first part of the game, if someone's papers have a minor discrepancy, you can try to help them get their papers in order...or you can just deny their passport without explanation. The latter pays better. This is partly averted later, when you need to actually talk to the people who come up to your checkpoint before denying them, allowing them a chance to rectify any mistakes they've made.
  • Failed a Spot Check: It's all too easy to overlook basic details when inspecting passports, especially on the later days when the difficulty and number of rules ramps up.
  • Fake Difficulty: A common citation is for when an immigrant's stated gender is different from their actual gender. However, the immigrant's faces are rendered in such a stylized fashion that it can sometimes be nigh impossible to tell whether they are intended to look like men or women, rendering the exercise often one of trial and error.
  • Featureless Protagonist:
    • The player character doesn't have a name or even an icon. The player character's wife finds a picture on the second to last day with the player character in it, though.
    • Another inspector appeared on the official website prior to release. He's a nondescript man with brown hair and glasses. Several viewers mistakenly assumed that the man was the main character of the game until Lucas Pope confirmed that he actually wasn't.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • On your first day, a man will tell the player character that "Opening this checkpoint was a mistake." Terrorists carrying bombs will start trying to pass through it.
    • A certain EZIC agent will inform you that the man in red is not as dangerous as they say he is. You will know what she means a couple days later...
    • One day, the Truth of Arstotzka runs an article about how Arstotzkan doctors are among the best in the world. The next day, an entrant comes in desperately seeking a surgery that can only be done in Arstotzka.
  • Friendly Enemy: Over time, the Inspector becomes a lot more friendly towards Jorji Costava.
  • Gender-Blender Name: Some travelers, even when they are the gender they claim to be.
  • Gender Reveal: Some travelers' looks will not match their passport's stated gender. Searching them may lead to definite "Oh..." moments.
  • Good with Numbers
    • You will have to be, or will learn to be, in order to properly carry out your duties. For example, you need to be quick on date math to make sure that a work permit expires at the same time as the duration of stay on an access permit. Likewise, you will have to be able to quickly realize that "eight weeks" and "two months" are (well, reasonably) equivalent.
    • At first, mismatched passport numbers are blatantly obvious. But later on, there will be rare instances where the passport number will be off by only one digit or even missing one digit.
  • Graceful Loser: Jorji never holds it against the inspector for denying him entrance (or even getting detained), provided the reasons are valid, and still even regards him as a friend.
  • Grey and Gray Morality:
    • There are virtually no "right" or "wrong" choices in this game. Over the course of the game, you'll have to make ethical dilemmas whether or not you should sympathize with the entrant or obey the rules. For example, after an Antegrian man has his credentials and papers passed and allowed entry to the country (which his credentials are always correct), his wife will appear as well, but will always lack an entry permit. Allowing her in will net you a citation, but you will receive a token and a achievement for this.
    • The EZIC and Arstotzkan government are not very different. The Arstotzkan government is a totalitarian, corrupt, bureaucracy; but they are the player character's best chance of keeping a stable job and providing a better life for his family. EZIC wants to topple the current corrupt regime and is willing to grant the inspector's family a much better life than what Arstotzka offers; but like Arstotzka, they don't take traitors lightly.
    • Some of the morally gray decisions are helpfully given an answer in the form of a token given for selecting the "right" answer.
    • The appeal and aesop of the game is that it challenges your morality and teaches you that there is a difference between "legally right" and "morally right".
  • Guide Dang It:
    • Crossing over with Noob Bridge, many new players get stuck on the third day when Jorji Costava shows up for the first time with no documents whatsoever. The player has to select the rule about needing a passport and compare it with the empty table in order to dismiss him. The maker has been trying to make this more obvious, but with limited success.
    • It won't occur to some people to highlight the newspaper article when the murderer from Republia appears.
    • In the event where a woman asks you for help with a man she's afraid will make her a Sex Slave, when the player encounters him the first action to come to mind is to deny him entry. This simply leads to the same outcome if the player accepts him, and costs the player a fine. The correct action to do is inspecting the note the woman gives the player and the man's name on his passport or ID card, and then pressing the "Detain" button. Alternatively, the player can just give the note to the man to enable the "Detain" button.
    • An EZIC messenger informs the player character about an assassin and provides him with some white powder in a card. It instructs him to press down on it. The correct way of applying it is to click the bottom of the powder case while it's over the passport to apply it. Just don't click the powder itself. Probably justified by the fact you're handling Anthrax or some other highly sensitive substance...
  • Heel Realization: The first time you play the game, you think to yourself that the first message that you get from EZIC, the one that says the government is corrupted by greed and paranoia, along with the hefty bribes they try to give you are just poor attempts to persuade you into becoming a traitor. But later on, your supervisor orders you to violate protocol for his convenience, Jorji is able to buy his way out of incarceration, and Arstotzkan dissidents attack your post which forces the Ministry of Information to institute a passport confiscation program against all of its citizens (including your own family). When you piece these facts together, you'll suddenly realize that EZIC really was telling the truth after all.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: An EZIC messenger will task you with killing a man in red (Clearly visible in the queue), and promises that your sacrifice ensures that Arstotzka will be saved, and your family will be protected. Unfortunately, this leads to a Downer Ending, in which while they were able to relocate your family to a safer nation, they're unable to operate in Arstotzka, dooming them to hibernate. Whether or not you wanted to help them, this makes the sacrifice pointless...
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: An EZIC messenger provides you a key to a sniper rifle to assassinate a man (which you have to miss). At the last day, you can use that sniper rifle on the two agents that run an assault on the wall.
  • I Have Many Names: Some travelers state this as an explanation of why they might have a name discrepancy. Sometimes it's legit.
  • Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy: All the border guards suffer from this.
  • Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain: Jorji Costava, the world's least subtle and most harebrained illegal immigrant and drug runner. Your character starts anticipating his visits over the course of the game.
  • Informed Deformity: One of the excuses people give if their picture looks different from their current appearance is "the years have been cruel." This can happen even if they look better than the picture in their passport.
  • Interface Spoiler:
    • If the inspector doesn't say "Cause no trouble" to a Kolechian passing through the checkpoint, expect something to go down on the other side.
    • Brothel workers — the girls who hand you cards from the Pink Vice — always have their papers in order, so you can just give approval and send them on. This can save you a lot of time.
    • The four engineers who show up after Messof Anegovych asks you to give out his business cards also have their papers in order, although they may answer the purpose and/or duration questions wrong and need to be prompted.
  • Ironic Echo: "Glory to Arstotzka" is frequently used as a greeting among government officials and when welcoming citizens back to the country. However, in the bad endings, you're told of why you're losing your job (either for incompetence, insubordination, or associating with EZIC), your punishment, what will happen to your family, and how you're easily replaced. All of this is capped off with "Glory to Arstotzka."
  • Jaywalking Will Ruin Your Life: Even if you have a perfect track record with zero citations and let his lover into the country, Dimitri will still send you to the gulags for the extremely minor crime of decorating the booth.
  • Jerkass: One Arstotzkan citizen will complain at you for being "slow" and that he has a bus to catch, even if you give him back his passport in less than five seconds. Go ahead and take your time.
    • The "self-righteous" International Press Reporters will never bring in the proper paperwork required for entry. Yet if you deny their entry, they'll accuse you and the government of violating their rights to move freely into any country and trying to keep the truth of what's happening in Arstotzka from being known to the world. Grant their entry, however, and they "thank you" and proceed to write a scathing report about you and your government's incompetence which unfortunately makes it to the newspaper front-page.
  • Karma Houdini: Jorji Costava just keeps coming back no matter how many times you have him detained for smuggling drugs at the border. Justified in that the authorities in Arstotzka are utterly corrupt and he just bribes his way out of anything.
  • Lampshade Hanging: At a certain point, Arstotzka gets a reputation for being a criminal haven, prompting a rule update that requires you to keep an eye out for the three most wanted criminals of the day trying to cross your border. On arriving at work and calling for the first person in line, s/he is always on the wanted list that you just started receiving.
    You: How coincidental that you would arrive today.
  • Luck-Based Mission: It's up to random luck whether the next guy in line has a squeaky clean set of papers or not. Sometimes a string of easy passes will speed past your post, making that next one subtle flaw all the more difficult to notice. Some events are scripted, though, and on multiple playthroughs, you'll welcome them as you can stamp their paperwork and move on quickly.
  • Lucky Bastard: An entrant comes into your booth with a forgery or wanted status. Before you are able to detain them or even interrogate the critical discrepancy, the alarm sounds and you have to deal with the terrorists attacking your post. They just got away scot-free since you didn't get to arrest them.
  • Memento MacGuffin: Sergiu eventually gives the inspector a locket of his love, Elisa, so that she can be recognized when it's time. It's up to the player whether Elisa is let in or not, as she lacks proper paperwork.
  • Mission Control: The Arstotzka Ministry of Admission. Updates to national immigration policies are received before missions and warnings and penalties, in the form of wage deductions, are sent whenever you make a wrong call.
  • Morton's Fork:
    • Eventually journalists will start showing up and attempt to use their press passes to gain entry. Deny them for having invalid paperwork, and they'll insult you for trying to silence the media and write an article about it. Accept them, and you'll get a citation for breaking the rules to help them... and they'll insult you for your inefficiency in enforcing the rules and write an article about it.
    • Day 29, when Jorji gives you his passport. You'll receive a citation regardless of denying or allowing him, either for denying a person clear for entry or for unauthorized passport confiscation.
  • Multiple Endings: Depending on how much money you make and how you respond to certain events. A list of the endings: Click to expand 
  • Mundane Made Awesome: Be honest, do you think actual border control could ever be this engaging?
  • My Country, Right or Wrong: You can choose to play your character this way, following protocol to the letter and refusing bribes. After all, they did manage to give you the job to support your family (even if it was by chance).
  • Never Hurt an Innocent: EZIC makes it very clear that they abide by this rule.
  • Nintendo Hard: "Time IS Money" and you need to process more than 15 entrants to stay afloat. Because of this, your precarious financial situation at the start of the game will only get more precarious without sharp eyes and a fast hand which means you probably won't get far before you go bankrupt. This is not helped at all by an increasing number of rules and occasional terror attacks which cut the day short, resulting in a reduced pay. Oh, did we mention that the daily rent gets more expensive?
  • No Communities Were Harmed: Arstotzka and the other fictional in-game countries. Several countries have (city) names that allude to America (The United Federation, or Republia's Bostan, for instance) and others that sound more European while the country of Impor alludes to Asian countries, especially Japan. The result is that despite the Soviet overtones, it feels like it could be set anywhere in Europe, or even in North America or Asia. In addition, Lucas Pope has written that he didn't want Arstotzka to be USSR or Russia and thus for example the word "comrade" or any of its equivalents shouldn't be used when translating the game into another language.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished:
    • Letting someone in when their papers aren't in order gets you a citation, even if it saves their life.
    • From the perspective of a loyal Arstotzkan, promptly handing EZIC-related evidence over to the inspector may be the right thing to do, but you'll be arrested on suspicion if you do so.
  • Non-Standard Game Over: Any ending that results in your death (such as touching the poison you're meant to give to an EZIC target) abruptly returns you to the main menu without the End Game Results Screen and is not counted among the game's actual endings.
  • Not So Different: It is none of the factions are really that different from each other in terms of immigration policy and treatment of its own citizens. This is highlighted by the similar CatchPhrases like "Glory to Arstotzka" and "Obristan Above All"
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: People can wait in line for hours to see you before being told that their entrance was denied because of a misspelled name or expired ticket.
  • Oh, Crap: The man who gives you two passports (see Epic Fail) instantly realises his mistake and starts begging you to give them back.
  • The Omniscient: The Ministry of Admission's citation printer. You may not have spotted the mistake in someone's documentation, but it did! According to the devlog, the gamemaker went this way instead of having a more fallible system so it would be obvious when you slip up.
  • The Order: The Order of the EZIC Star. They claim to be an ancient order dedicated to restoring Arstotzka through clandestine dealings. Whether you believe them or not is up to you.
  • Painful Rhyme: An In-Universe example, the love note someone gives you on day 25 attempts to rhyme "visa" with "fire", "desire" and "wire".
  • Perpetual Poverty: From beginning to end, you're going to struggle to make ends meet for you and your family. Even if you accept a $1000 bribe, your superiors will catch on and yank it from you.
  • Perspective Flip: In the "Escape to Obristan" endings, you are an immigrant handing forged documents to a border inspector. Fortunately, he's worse at his job than you ever were.
  • Pet the Dog:
    • If you let his friend into the country, then your Bad Boss, Dimitri, will say that coming to the checkpoint doesn't seem so bad anymore.
    • Considering the setting, the Arstotzkan government being willing to overlook all your past bribes and wrong-doings for your loyalty and protection of the checkpoint seems uncharacteristically generous.
  • Point-and-Click: Gameplay mostly consists of inspecting paperwork for inconsistencies against your rulebook and each other. Find two things that don't pass muster and you can either confront the prospective immigrant about it or just bust out the denial stamp, no questions asked. For all the simplicity, however, gameplay is surprisingly complex, with multiple plots and a number of things to keep track of.
  • Police Brutality: If someone doesn't leave your booth voluntarily, the guards will deal with them by bashing them unconscious with the butt of a rifle and carrying them away.
  • Power Perversion Potential: The scanner allows you to see under people's clothes. The options menu allows you to turn nudity on and off.
  • Press X to Die: When you get the poison powder from the EZIC agent, there is nothing stopping you from touching the powder, even with the warning on the packet itself telling you not to.
  • Propaganda Machine: It's implied that The Truth of Arstotzka (the paper that we can read) is one of these. Ultimately, it's remarkably closer to a free press in practice, with opinion pieces and headlines that are openly critical of the government policies.
    • Also, you can notice below the title, where the price would be, that there is "no charge" for the paper. So, in a sense, Arstotzka can claim they have a free press.
  • Protection Mission: Sergiu is a guard who is stationed at the border for a few weeks of the story mode. He is very vulnerable, and his subplot will end if he is killed. If the player wants that nice $100 reward for keeping him alive and letting his girlfriend through, he needs to be kept safe from the various terrorists.
  • Punch Clock Hero: The player. Day in and day out you man your post at the border in order to support your wife, son, uncle, and mother-in-law who will all starve and die without support from your wage. In other words, he is a very literal punch clock hero. 6 to 6 each day.
  • Rage Within The Machine: Potentially you, depending on how much you come to hate your own government.
  • Red and Black and Evil All Over: The title screen is all over this.
  • Redshirt Army: The Arstotzkan guards. Almost all of the time, they have terrible aim, and the week cannot go by without at least one of them dying. Once you have access to a rifle, you can potentially save two of them when an attack happens (though saving Sergiu is the only one that matters). Somehow, an Arstotzkan border inspector has better aim than the men who are trained to shoot on sight. Sergiu will even lampshade his bad aim if you save him once.
    • Consequently, if you used the poison EZIC provided, you can get one guard killed. If you've been supportive of EZIC 100%, those guards at the end are necessary targets.
  • Refuge in Audacity: Jorji not only fails to deny he has contraband but in addition openly admits to smuggling drugs into Arstotzka, bribing police to suppress information, bribing police to escape prison, and paying for forged documents when his are taken away. It's quite possible that you'd just let him through than try to make sense of it all.
  • Retraux: The game's graphical style resembles an EGA game from the early '90s, though the animation is a little too smooth for it.
  • Retirony: Averted in the case of Sergiu. If you save his life and let his lover through, he informs you that the next day he is getting a different post. Luckily for him, there's no terrorist attack on his last day.
  • Revenge:
    • After news that a serial child killer named Simon Wens is returning to Arstotzka, a vengeful father asks you to let Simon in and confiscate his passport, so he can find and murder him. He even gives you a photo of his daughter, who Simon killed, to convince you further. He will be thankful to you if you grant him his chance. Indeed, the next day Simon is found dead in a "confusing mess".
    • On Day 19, Impor imposes trade sanctions on Arstotzkan imported goods, so Arstotzka responds by rejecting all Impor immigrants. This act quickly ends the trade sanctions from Impor.
  • Right on Queue: Each day a massive line forms outside your post and it's your job to see as many of them as possible. The line never gets shorter or thins out except after one particularly brutal terrorist attack, when the line is noticeably much sparser the next day.
  • Ripped from the Headlines:
    • Vince Lestrade, a Republian track star accused of killing his girlfriend, is based on Oscar Pistorius.
    • The daily newspaper writes about a domestic spying scandal in Antegria, and the whistleblower seeking asylum (and ultimately being granted it) in Arstotzka. This is based on the Edward Snowden whistleblowing scandal.
  • Running Gag: Jorji Costava, a man who comes in, speaking in mangled English, and always has something wrong. For example, his first appearance has him come in with no passport. The second time, he has a made-up passport from "Cobrastan" that you can reject outright. He'll also cheerfully admit that all his papers are forged (when he finally gets his paperwork in order, he tells you it's because he paid for really good forgeries), that he's a drug smuggler, and that he'll just bribe his way out of prison if you detain him again. You actually get friendly dialogue with him as he keeps appearing, including a "Sorry, Jorji" when he has to be detained again. Funnily enough, knowing a criminal can come in handy — he can ultimately help you escape the country if needed.
  • Ruritania: Arsotzka, with all of the "lovely" features of a 1980s Soviet Bloc country — job lottery, daily rule changes, smugglers, terrorists, etc.
  • Sadistic Choice: There are a lot of these found throughout the game. You'll often have to decide between your paycheck and your conscience.
    • For EZIC supporters, the day that you're tasked to kill the man in red will be this. Doing what they ask will result in your death, but not doing so will jeopardize the entire EZIC movement in Arstotzka. A terrorist attack neatly solves the problem for you, as the man in red retreats back to Kolechia in the panic.
  • Save Scumming:
    • The very first day, being a tutorial, has the most lenient rules regarding who can pass through — Arstotzkans versus non-Arstotzkans. As such, you can replay the day over and over for the most amount of processes in order to build up a buffer in your savings, with numbers greater than 20 possible with enough practice.
    • If you get an unsatisfactory income or a bad ending on a given day, all you need to do is replay that day from the continue screen. This is intentional, as part of the Anti-Frustration Features.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Connections!: If the player detains his boss' lover at the checkpoint, he'll be sentenced to forced labour on trumped-up charges. In addition, the player may decide to do favors for people who he likes.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: The player can, and in many cases probably should, take bribes to let people through the checkpoint. A few citations a day aren't exactly a danger to his position.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right: Players can decide to violate protocol and let people in anyway despite papers that don't add up or exist.
  • Secret Police: The Ministry of Information Special Investigation Division. Pro-tip: when you sit down in your booth and Special Investigator M. Vonel is already there waiting for you, be very, very careful about what you say to him.
  • Serious Business:
    • Gain a few pounds since that ID card was created? Did you get married and have a new name? Was that just a bad picture day for you and the photo doesn't quite match up? All of this is grounds enough for the Arstotzkan Ministry of Admission Inspector (the player character) to throw you out or even detain you, though if he's feeling good about it, he might just ask you some additional questions.
    • A second offense of having non-approved decorations on the wall of your booth is enough to get you sentenced to forced labor.
  • Shmuck Bait:
    • In case you have been helping certain parties, you will at one point receive a dangerous item with a metaphorical Big Red Button labeled Do Not Press on it. If you click on the powder, you white out and are returned to the main menu.
    • That expensive gift you can take or burn? Taking it will eventually cost you all of your savings to be confiscated and for you to be investigated. Letting an EZIC agent in the country can help clear things up, though, but you'll never get your money back. Or, if you refuse the first gift but accept the second, more expensive gift, you'll soon get yourself a Nonstandard Game Over. Accepting the first is ok if you're low on money to begin with; you can keep the money for a day, and move up to a better apartment which you can downgrade later and keep that money. Just be sure to help the EZIC agent clear your name.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The countries of Republia and Antegria come from Lucas Pope's previous game, The Republia Times.
    • Because of the pre-release name submission campaign, there are/were several unintentional cameos. Every name belonging to another property is immediately removed from the game when it's discovered.
      @dukope: "You wouldn't believe how many people submitted pony/touhou/licensed-property names for Papers Please immigrants. At least, I was surprised."
    • "Dari Ludum", the sinister master of the Pink Vice brothel, is a shoutout to the Ludum Dare game jam that Lucas Pope regularly participates in.
    • The ISBN for the rulebook is the same as the one for 1984.
  • Sinister Surveillance: Think you can get away with an easy-to-slip mistake? The citation machine would beg to differ.
  • Sniper Rifle: One eventually gets issued to the player for those times when terrorists are about to make things a whole lot worse for Arstotzka and "budget reassignments" force some of the guards away from your checkpoint. It's only a tranquilizer rifle, though until EZIC gives you the key to a sniper rifle....
  • Speaking Simlish: The spoken words in the game are filtered samples of nonsense words ("ehua?", "ihe", "gish-tot", "haouaeay", "lekrafezuh!") typed into the Mac "say" command.
    • Though the phrase the Inspector says when an immigrant enters the booth sounds a lot like a request for "Papers."
  • Stupidity Is the Only Option: Want to unlock all the ending tokens? You'll have to do some dumb things, assuming you didn't accidentally get those anyways. Four of them involve shooting either bystanders or border guards with weapons, which is hard to do accidentally with decent aim.
  • Stylistic Suck: The game almost has a grim, bleak DOS-quality graphic style that looks hideous by today's standards. The benefits of this though are that it is easier to find discrepancies and also reflects the dystopian nature of the game. Conversely, the art style is so stylized that sometimes it can be difficult if a character is meant to be male or female (see Fake Difficulty above).
  • Suspiciously Specific Denial:
    Jorji: Everything is definitely ok with me. For sure I am not in criminal bulletin or anything!
  • Swiss Cheese Security: The checkpoint has pathetic amounts of physical security at first, having a wall so low that intruders can simply leap over it. There is also only one guard initially who literally cannot aim to save his life. As time goes on, eventually the government responds to the terrorist attacks with heightened security measures. The player can even gain access to a tranquilizer gun and/or sniper rifle to stop attackers.
  • Taking You with Me: A scripted event is for a Kolechian with impeccable entry papers to self-destruct, killing three guards at the entry border. This will happen twice, and both times, you will NOT be able to stop them because their papers are perfect.
  • Tempting Fate: "For sure, I am not in criminal bulletin or anything" Unfortunately, Jorji is...
    • The wall at your checkpoint is so low that attackers can jump over it.
  • This Is Gonna Suck:
    • Everytime you get a citation, you'll dread more and more the day your superior officer is scheduled to have a word with you.
    • The inspector from the Ministry of Information. If you've been helping out the rebel group, EZIC, God help you when you have to see him again...
  • Timed Mission: Your pay is based on how many people you can (correctly) service by the end of the work day. You can't rush through people: if you admit entry to someone you should have denied, you are penalized. If you deny entry to someone you should have admitted, you are penalized. After Day 18, if you deny entry to someone you should deny, but don't stamp the denial reason, you are penalized.
  • To Be Lawful or Good: Effectively the whole point of the game. In order to keep the government off your back and stay in the black, you need to abide to their standards, no matter how oppressive they are or how much they'll weigh on your conscience.
  • Took a Level in Badass: The player, once you have access to a tranquillizer rifle. Think of the many guards you could save from terrorist attacks with a well placed shot.
  • Tuckerization: The developer was taking name submissions for potential immigrants from the public.
  • Unable To Support A Wife: You are already married and with a family and must earn enough money to support them. Arstotzkan workers are expected to support large, healthy families. If your entire family dies, you'll be fired from your job.
  • Vast Bureaucracy: Arstotzka. You're assigned your job through a "labour lottery". Your rulebook is updated with new complicated rules almost every day. You have to deal with at least three different ministries, each with their own set of seals (they can't even agree on a single seal per ministry).
  • Verbal Backspace: A surprising number of immigrants get their length of stay completely wrong. Not simply off by a short measure of time, but way off. When you confront them about the discrepancy, they universally have an "Oh, right, that" reaction.
    IMMIGRANT: I stay for six weeks.
    (Access permit specifies 2 days)
    INSPECTOR: The length of your stay is different.
    IMMIGRANT: I make mistake. I just pass through.
    • Even more amusing is that the system sees this as clearing the discrepancy.
  • Video Game Caring Potential:
    • Some good people might be unfortunately in possession of an improper set of identification or insufficient amount thereof and a kind player can "look the other way" and stamp them approved anyway. In one instance, a woman claiming to be at risk of becoming a Sex Slave to a man in line after her will slip you a note begging for your help. When his turn comes up, you can swiftly kick him out or detain him.
    • About halfway through the game, one of the guards befriends you. A few days later, he asks for a favor. Granting him his favour will make you feel really good about yourself (but get you in trouble).
    • In the later days, you will learn that your sister gets arrested, leaving her daughter up for adoption. She may be another mouth to feed, but she is family... And adopting her gets you rewarded with an extra $100, thankfully.
    • You don't HAVE to ask questions to anyone with improper paperwork until the time comes where you need to find reasons to deny them; in fact, the moment you see an inconsistency, you can deny them outright. If you do ask, some of them may have made an honest mistake, or didn't make things clear. The fact that you're going through the extra effort just to see if it's a good person that can be admitted is showing that you care yourself.
    • There's a man and woman claiming to be husband and wife that are fleeing from an oppressive regime that will kill them. His papers are in good order and he goes first. Her papers are not.
  • Video Game Cruelty Potential:
    • You can let the guy running the sex trade through. You could also just deny everyone entry, whether their papers are good or not, though that'll get you in trouble very quickly.
    • There's the man who tries to bribe you with both cash and a wristwatch (a "family heirloom"). You can deny him and give him back the money and the watch... or detain him and keep the watch and money for yourself.
    • Giving Simon Wens a picture of his victim will cause him to exclaim, "What the fuck!" and run back to Kolechia.
    • You can stop paying your family's bills and kill off all but one of them without losing the game. As the game wiki puts it: "[I]t is possible to [do this] in order to reduce expenses. It is also exactly as callous as it sounds."
    • One of the endings requires getting up to six Obristan passports to use for you and your family to flee the country. You get one of them from Jorji, who hands it over willingly, but you have to wrongly deprive up to five other Obristanians of their ability to travel, who are more often than not completely innocent. And they're not getting their passports back by calling the number on the slip when you'll be long gone by then.
  • Violation of Common Sense: Many first-time players would give the EZIC documents to the M.O.I. Inspector, as what most law-abiding people would do in real life. Doing so will get you investigated and arrested for a Non-Standard Game Over.
  • Voice Grunting: Everyone, including the player, speaks in this.
  • Western Terrorists:
    • The Kolechians are responsible for most of the terrorist attacks early on.
    • The EZIC, for all their righteousness, are not above terrorism (though never against innocent citizens).
  • What the Hell, Player?:
    • You will receive a printed citation every time you make a wrong call, and your superior officer may make a comment alluding to this depending on your performance. Some immigrants and citizens will also pull this on you, mostly if it's an immoral choice (which at least saves you from earning a citation). Although if you fall through in your word to certain people, this can be justified.
    • You can give Simon Wens the photo of his victim. He runs far, far away, and the man who wanted to kill him will not be happy.
    • Work with the EZIC group, and shoot the guys the messenger told you not to shoot? They will be suitably mad at you.
    • Some of the endings are earned with you blatantly betraying both EZIC and the Arstotzkan government in one go, predictably leading you to forced labour or death.
  • Wire Dilemma: Defusing a bomb that gets planted in the booth during a scripted event requires cutting a set of wires in a numerical sequence listed on the outer casing of the bomb. This obvious design flaw is lampshaded by the nearby guard.
    Calensk: This is poorest bomb I ever see. A simple mind created this. Just cut the wires in order.
  • You Bastard:
    • The paper will reflect what actions you took (or didn't take) the next day, subtly condemning your actions if what you did was ethically questionable.
    • The people in line will also sometimes tell you off if you red-stamp them. If their papers are fine, they might even say "You Bastard" verbatim.
    • Jorji will return with the correct documents. If you're still bitter about him constantly getting it wrong, or deny him unjustifiably, he'll call you out for it.
  • Yet Another Stupid Citation: After getting further into the game and becoming more proficient, you will likely resolve to never allow something as easy and frequent as an expired passport or invalid issuing city to go past your eyes unnoticed. You will just as likely do it again at some point, after checking almost everything else.
  • You ALL Look Familiar: All Generic Entrants are created through an algorithm which combines different facial parts that are drawn from a database of 16 preexisting faces.
  • You No Take Candle: Many characters speak in very stilted English. Likely a sign of them not quite grasping the language of Arstotzka fully. Though on the other hand, the player character sometimes speaks this way himself ("Where is passport?"), so who knows.
    • One possible interpretation is that the text is being translated directly from the faux-Russian language into English, leading to the usual grammatical issues.
  • Your Days Are Numbered: During the final week, you'll be notified of an impending audit by the Ministry of Information. In fact, their special investigator will audit you personally. If you've worked with the EZIC group, even helped them once or accepted one of their gifts, but haven't done enough for them to be able to start their revolution in earnest, you may want to consider escaping from Arstotzka, otherwise, the Arstotzkan inspector will have you arrested for treason and sentenced to death by the last day. On the day of Christmas Eve no less.

"There appears to be a discrepancy."