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Glory to Arstotzka.

"Papers, please..."
"Here you go. P-please let me in, I've waited for hours."
"Purpose of trip?"
"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 Authoritarian, Bureaucratic, and Socialist nation of Arstotzka from smugglers, spies, terrorists, other criminals, 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 and released on December 12, 2017, 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 a similar universe to Lucas Pope's earlier game The Republia Times, a simpler game about running a newspaper in a totalitarian state.

The website is here.

It has received a short film adaptation (in Russian, though all onscreen text is English and there are subtitles in over 20 languages, including English), which can be streamed from Steam here or watched on Youtube here.

Compare Beholder and This War of Mine. Lucas Pope followed this game up with Return Of The Obra Dinn in 2018.


Glory to Arstotzka for containing examples of the following tropes:

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    Tropes #-G 
  • The '80s: The game is set in late 1982 (or, if you complete Endless Mode, 1983), and while the setting is fictional, the nations have an oppressive Soviet Bloc government feel to them.
  • Acceptable Breaks from Reality: If you get a citation immediately after making a mistake, whoever's sending out the citations should be the one manning the checkpoint instead, since they're so sharp. Originally, this mechanic was implemented more realistically, but it was changed to this version not only to provide better feedback for the player, but also to make the Ministry of Admission feel more like an all-seeing Orwellian entity.
  • 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 Husband goes first and has everything correct. The Wife's passport is a few days expired.
    • 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.
    • To fulfill the first and to avoid the second, you must carefully balance your books. If you can't make enough, you inevitably have to decide who gets medicine, food and heat, and who to simply let die. And these are your family members.
  • Affably Evil: What counts as evil is up for debate in a story so heavily mired in Grey-and-Gray 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.
  • Alliterative Name:
    • The game itself, of course.
    • The Arstotzka Arskickers team.
  • Amazing Technicolor Population: Due to the art style (probably), the characters may have blue, purple, or pale green skin.
  • Ambidextrous Sprite: If the entrant provides documentation with their pictures, their images will likely be flipped, though there's no discrepancy there.
  • Ambiguous Gender: 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. This triggers a strip search scan that can either clear the discrepancy or incriminate the entrant enough to merit detainment. It doesn't help that some of them have names generally associated with the opposite gender as well.
  • An Aesop: Power breeds corruption, but so does desperation. Put a man in power (over other people's lives) and desperation, and you have the story of Papers, Please. This aesop is elaborated on in this video.
  • And the Adventure Continues: If you did not help EZIC once throughout the course of Story mode, then the game will end with you passing your audit and continuing your job as a border inspector.
  • Anti-Frustration Features:
    • It is possible to re-load your game from any day from any playthrough. So if you get a Non-Standard Game Over, it is a simple matter to pick up where you left off and not have 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 who have trouble with reading numbers, names, or dates quickly, the "Match Data" tool can be used to somewhat quickly compare these things between documents to see if they match or not, though this eats up some time compared to just checking yourself.
    • Non-scripted entrants will have only one major discrepancy in their documentationnote , so if you spot a discrepancy that later checks out, you can approve the entrant immediately without having to waste time looking for further discrepancies.note 
    • For those with bad aim, missing a shot when using the tranquilizer rifle still nets you a "trigger 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.
    • The first two citations of each day do not dock any of your pay (however, you do not get paid for those people, either), so you can still screw up a few times and not really feel it. It also allows you to be a little charitable to some of the scripted moral choices, provided you are impeccably perfect with the remaining entrants.
    • Similar to the above, scripted events will never require you to get more than two citations per day, so you are never forced to handicap yourself just for the sake of the story. However, they usually use both of the citations, meaning that while the game gives you the chance to avoid cash penalties, you've got to work your ass off for them.
  • 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.
  • Apathetic Citizens:
    • Your neighbors will happily cough you up to the authorities if you accept EZIC's monetary gift; however, no one gives a damn should one of your family members pass away.
    • Think you deserve some sort of bereavement leave, or condolences? Neither your neighbors nor the government will care.
  • Arc Words:
    • "Glory to Arstotzka.
    • "For Arstotzka and the Order".note 
    • "Cause no trouble."
  • Asshole Victim:
    • While it's possible to detain the escaped serial child killer, 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.
    • Arstotzka itself is essentially this; it's a bleak, nasty place, but people keep attacking it, leading to further oppression and xenophobia.
  • "Ass" in Ambassador: Occasionally, you have to arrest an ambassador who is on the most wanted list, an ambassador with phony documents, or a phony posing as an ambassador. He or she might say "You are a fool!" or "You have no authority for this!" when you do this.
  • Badass Beard: In your family photo, you have a large beard. You are (probably) very good at your job and a better marksman than most of the guards.
  • 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. This trope comes in handy with all the weird events that go on during this month.
  • 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.
  • Badge Gag: Jorgi Costava repeatedly attempts to finesse his way through the checkpoint making no effort to pretend his documents are fake, on one occasion presenting a passport from "Cobrastan" (a country that doesn't exist In-Universe) that is crudely drawn with crayon.
  • Bavarian Fire Drill: Your first interaction with Jorji has him trying to convince the inspector that he is perfectly allowed to waltz into Arstotzka without any papers whatsoever. He then tries it again later with a blatantly forged passport that a 4-year-old could make.
  • Beat: You have the option to flee to Obristan. For dramatic effect, there are a few blank "Next"s where dialogue would normally be while the Obristan guard is considering, but you always get a pass into Obristan.
  • 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 leave your family in dire straits. You can get two citations per day without having your pay docked, so as long as you don't make any actual mistakes, you can make it work.
  • 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 credit gift, the Ministry of Income confiscates your savings and investigates you. When 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. In endings where you help EZIC but are imprisoned for other reasons, they'll ensure your family will safely escape to Obristan.
  • Big Brother Is Employing You: You are a Border Inspector for an oppressive Communist government, so naturally this trope applies.
  • Big Brother Is Watching: Antegria is spying on its own citizens, and therefore a whistleblower exposes this.
  • A Birthday, Not a Break: Elisa arrives to the checkpoint on her 20th birthday, which may not be a coincidence, since the Kolechian authorities would not let her leave the country. If you turn her away or if Sergiu's dead, the trope applies.
  • 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." This does not apply when the strip search is triggered due to an apparent sex discrepancy, in which the inspector will instead ask if the entrant is a man or a woman.
    • 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." As of the update introducing fingerprint identification, this may actually prove to be a subversion if it really is them.
    • Sometimes foreigners (who, after day 3, need a document explaining purpose of trip and duration of stay) will give you answers that don't match up with the document. One possible lie is "In transit until I die." They will always correct themselves if you call them out on it.
    • Jorji's first passport states that it's issued by "Cobrastan". Either you can helpfully point out the lie, or the citation will point it out for you, to you.
  • Bodyguarding a Badass: After the player gets access to the tranquilizer 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. This trope is also played with if the inspector fails to destroy the motorcycle that a terrorist is trying to crash into the inspector's booth on day 28, because one of the guards will shoot and destroy the motorcycle before it can hit the booth.
  • 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. On day 31, if you haven't helped EZIC, one of their agents will also throw an explosive into your booth if you don't shoot them in time.
  • Born Lucky: An entrant comes into your booth with a forgery, somebody else's stolen document, 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.
  • Bribe Backfire:
    • When detaining a man who offers a bribe, you say the line: "You cannot bribe an Arstotzkan Officer."
    • The Kolechian spy who is disguised as someone from the Ministry of Information gives the player a bribe that cannot be refused. The player can still give the spy counterfeit documents, which will lead to Kolechia accusing the wrong people of being Arstotzkan spies.
    • 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.
    • This seems to have happened with Jorji — when he comes to you while he's in the wanted bulletin, he is aghast if you point it out.
      Inspector: Your face is in wanted bulletin.
      Jorji: What! I pay police like crazy! They promise no bulletin. All clear they say. I think twice about trusting friendly people.
    • A man called Danic Lorum will show up with incorrect documents and promise to come back at a later date with the correct ones if you're willing to turn a blind eye, and hands over a watch as collateral. When he does return, he will hand you a bribe before getting anything back. You can elect to keep the watch, to which he will become indignant, then arrest him for causing a scene, keeping the watch, the money, and possibly a kickback from Calensk's bonus for detainment.
    • 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 them the piece of paper with their name on it the first time they come through, they'll arrive and demand it later, and you won't be able to just detain them. As would be expected, this unpreventable action will not get you in any kind of trouble.
    • On day 6 and day 12, scripted suicide bombers pass through the checkpoint and kill the guards. There is no way to avoid this: if you've memorized which entrants they are (both are the ninth on their respective days), the day will continue until they come along, so you can't just hold the line at the eighth entrants. Since they have their paperwork in order, you can't deny them without a citation, and all following entrants also carry explosives, so denying them is pointless. No matter what you do, those bombers will be allowed entry.
    • When the option of fleeing to Obristan using forged passports comes into play, Jorji forces you to confiscate his passport; you cannot prevent this, nor can you return it to him after the fact. Unlike the above example, you still get a citation for this.
  • 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.
    • Subverted in the ending. M. Vonel will find out about any cooperation with EZIC, but he's only looking for treason in his audit. He'll let petty corruption by an otherwise-good Inspector slide.
  • Car Fu:
    • On day 28, a terrorist on a motorcycle attempts to crash into the inspector's booth.
    • On day 31, EZIC agents arrive to bomb the wall and runs over one of the guards in their car.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Your Arstotzkan passports are this. They get confiscated in an attempt to prevent Arstotzkans from being able to cross borders in response to activity that results in an attempted coup d'état.
  • Checkpoint Charlie: Working at one of these is the primary gameplay element.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: 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: Arstotzka is green-grey, Kolechia is purple, Obristan is bright red (as is "Cobrastan"), Antegria is green, Republia is brown, Impor is dark red, and the United Federation is royal blue.note 
    • There is a brass key for using a tranq gun, and a silver one for a sniper rifle.
    • The outlines of people outside your booth are colour-coded: entrants and civilians are black, guards are blue except for Sergiu, who 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 (like the fact his passport is crudely drawn in crayon) and focus on the fact that "Cobrastan is not a real country". If the player doesn't pass him, the inspector cites the above as the reason.
  • Commie Land: Arstotzka and most of the other countries in the region are oppressive communist autocracies.
  • 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 are distinctly reminiscent of Fascism as well. Inspector M. Vonel's black uniform with the cap also highly resembles a Nazi officer uniform.
  • Commissar Cap: M. Vonel wears one as part of being a Special Investigator.
  • Corrupt Bureaucrat: Many entrants will try to bribe you. You can of course accept the money (and then detain them anyway).
  • Countrystan:
    • One of the countries featured is Obristan. In one of the endings, it's the country you and your family flee to.
    • Jorji, a drug dealer who makes repeated attempts to cross the border, at one point tries to enter with a passport for a country called Cobrastan. This country doesn't actually exist in the game's universe, the reason you will be cited if you let him through. (It doesn't help that said passport is drawn in crayon.)
  • Crapsack World: Arstotzka is a nasty Ruritania in and of itself, but there are people immigrating to it to get away from worse countries. Antegria is a flat-out tyranny that spies on and kills its own citizens on a whim. Kolechia is considered ten times worse than Arstotzka by Sergiu, has a poor health care system, and is full of terrorists and drugs. Republia is a People's Republic of Tyranny. The United Federation has The Plague. Arstotzka, with all of its problems, has an excellent health care system, excellent scientists, a stable economy, and apparently a great transit system. The only countries which do not have anything pointing to general problems in this game are Impor and Obristan.
  • Critical Staffing Shortage: On day 16, there is a newspaper article about the ministries' shortage of qualified guards. You're given access to a tranquilizer gun because many of the guards at the checkpoint have been moved away from the checkpoint.
    The Ministry of Justice has appropriated the outer guard detail.
    You are now responsible for controlling trespasser activity.
  • 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.
    • If you are trying to get ending 19 (the one where you help EZIC overthrow the government) after getting good at denying entrants whose paperwork have discrepancies, it's very easy to skip over the three EZIC agents you're supposed to admit, since they always have obviously faulty paperwork.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: You are like this to Jorji. You are a stoic immigration inspector and start out by telling Jorji to never come back (since he keeps returning with faulty/no paperwork), but you eventually soften up to him, enough that you apologize for detaining him.
  • Demolitions Expert: Calensk is one. He tells you how to dispose of the bomb a terrorist left on your desk by cutting the wires in order. The trope is downplayed, however, because (in Calensk's words) the creator of the bomb was an amateur who even left numbers on the wires so the inspector easily knows which to cut, though his remark that it's the shittiest bomb he's ever seen implies that he's dealt with worse.
  • Demoted to Extra: Republia and Antegria, the two main countries featured in Lucas Pope's spiritual predecessor game The Republia Times, have the smallest role of the seven countries appearing in Papers, Please. Impor and the United Fed both feature in prominent subplots (a trade dispute with Arstotzka and a polio outbreak leading to the introduction of the vaccination certificate), Obristan plays an important role in the endgame, and Kolechia is a constant and literally visible presence throughout the game.
  • Determinator:
    • Jorji is really persistent about getting past that border, no matter how many times he gets turned away or detained.
    • No matter how unhelpful you are to EZIC, they still get in line to try to convince you to do things for them. Actually completing their tasks after failing on the first two is unwise unless you have the means to escape the country.
  • Developers' Foresight:
    • 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.
    • Everyone who steps into your booth has their weight appear on the scale, although recurring characters' weights vary.
    • You can shoot innocent bystanders or border guards to see what happens (or incidentally if your aim is bad). You either get sentenced to death or forced labour depending on the offense.
    • After you receive four business cards to hand to any engineers who cross the border, they have different dialogue when you try to give them more than one card.
    • On the day EZIC asks you to poison a target, it is possible to kill just him without involving any innocent guards or entrants by waiting for 6:00 to come so everyone walks away.
    • On day 29, Jorji will come and will suggest moving to Obristan since "things getting little crazy in Arstotzka". 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.
    • A few of the items you can hang up will get different comments from people depending on what kind of item it is. Even further, if you do hang up things and they get commented upon, denying someone right away will actually be accounted for. For example, if you hang up your son's art he drew for you if you bought him crayons, a lady might comment on it negatively and say he should "stick to sports". If you decline her right away saying that, she'll call you out for denying her for her comment.
  • Did Not Think This Through: EZIC's plan to have you assassinate the man in red turns out to be poorly thought out, as the inspector who replaces you will not cooperate, halting all their plans.
  • Diplomatic Impunity: Occasionally, an ambassador is on the world's most wanted list. You are supposed to arrest the ambassador in this case.
  • Disproportionate Retribution:
    • Later in the game, you can detain people for having inconsistent paperwork whose inconsistencies cannot be overridden or cleared by stronger evidence like fingerprints, identity records, and searches, and are not expired 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. You will also be sentenced to forced labour if you detain his "friend" Shae, who is attempting to enter the country with an invalid diplomatic authorization.
  • 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.
    • Another scripted entrant will try this with a love letter. The entrant always is missing most of the required paperwork.
  • Do Wrong, Right: When somebody comes in just to drop a bomb in your booth, Calensk gets incredibly ticked off. Not because of the danger it poses, but because the bomb is so poorly made that an amateur like yourself can defuse it easily.
  • Drugs Are Bad: Jorji Costava, a drug smuggler, says this himself in the following quote when he is first detained: "Drugs are bad. Not good for kids."
  • Dude Looks Like a Lady: Some men have heads that look like they belong on women. You have to strip search them to find out that the passport's stated biological sex is true. If your strip search discovers that the passport states that the entrant is a man when you find that the entrant is a woman, you can arrest her for having falsified documents.
  • Dynamic Entry: On the final day, EZIC agents enter the scene by running over a guard in a car and come out to shoot the rest.
  • Dystopia: It's Exactly What It Says on the Tin in its subtitle in the Steam listing.
  • 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. If ending 20 is achieved where the player remains loyal to the state, the government manages to survive multiple dilemmas that could have allowed it to fall.
  • Eagleland: The United Federation is implied to be such, with its blue passport, eagle diplomatic seal, and computerized border control. Although given its position on the map and border shape, it might actually be closer to Socialist Yugoslavia, which was a Federation with early access to computers as well (Yugoslav leader Tito was non aligned and thus had access to western goods). It also explains the polio outbreak there, as it draws inspiration from a Real Life smallpox outbreak which hit Yugoslavia in 1972 (the last in Europe, less than a decade before global eradication).
  • 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.
  • Easy-Mode Mockery: If you turn on easy mode, the 20 credits bonus you receive each day is called "easy mode crutch".
  • 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.
    • If the player somehow approves Jorji's first counterfeit passport and isn't just trying to see what happens if you do. It's an obvious fake written in crayon with a fictional country, fictional issuing city, and it expiration date is in the year 2013; the inspector should have noticed at least one of these problems.
  • Escort Mission: Weirdly enough for a bureaucracy simulator, the Sergiu subplot plays out like this. If the player cares about keeping him alive and reuniting him with Elisa, they have to ensure that he lives for 7 in-game days, in which time one of several events can kill him. Despite being a veteran, his aiming skills are quite bad for a checkpoint guard.
  • 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.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: The game's subtitle, "A Dystopian Document Thriller", as seen in its Steam listing.
  • Exact Words: This is why the inspector can detain people whose papers contain names with typos. Entrants always attribute typos as aliases. However, if the entrant stated that there was a typo, the inspector could have just denied the entrant instead of being given the opportunity to arrest the entrant.
  • The Faceless: All of the EZIC messengers (whom you can tell are different people because their weight varies) have their faces concealed in shadow, save for their nose and the EZIC symbol where their left eye would be.
  • Face of a Thug: Sometimes you see an entrant whose face looks very much like one of the world's three most wanted criminals, but is not one of them. Usually, the entrant in such cases has some apparent problem with the documents that could be corrected, be overridden, be shown not to be a problem with additional information, result in a denial, or result in some other reason to arrest the entrant. Occasionally, the entrant has perfectly fine papers and looks like a wanted criminal but the inspection mode shows that the entrant and the wanted criminal are two different people.
  • Fade to White: There are four ways to die on the job (by failing to disarm the bomb, touching the powder, letting a terrorist lob a grenade into your booth, and letting an unfriendly EZIC agent lob a grenade into your booth), and if those happen, the screen goes white and returns to the main screen without triggering an ending.
  • 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 ramp up.
    • Your boss will get angry if he spies any unauthorized decorations on the wall. You can have items hanging and take them off moments before he enters the booth, which should be extremely obvious from his perspective. Once he's in his citations spiel, you can hang them back up as he's talking and won't get in trouble.
    • If you choose to escape to Obristan, you pay for the forged passports and entry tickets, noting that they look terrible. The Obristan border inspector approves all of them anyway.
    • 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 interrogate and then dismiss him. Directions to do this are found on page 2 in the daily official bulletin for this day that the player is supposed to read before calling the first entrant. The game's creator has been trying to make this more obvious, with limited success.
  • Fatal Family Photo: Sergiu's locket from his lover, which marks him as vulnerable to dying even more than having My Girl Back Home (well, soon to cross the border into home). Though if you have good enough reflexes and aim, you can subvert this trope for him.
  • 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.
  • Fictional Country: All the countries on the map, which represent various eastern European Communist states. "Cobrastan" is a fictional country In-Universe.
  • First-Name Basis: After enough visits from Jorji, you address him by first name, something you don't do for anybody else. You also find out the divisional authority of East Grestin's name because Shae Piersovska refers to him as Dimitri.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • On your first day, a man will tell the player character that "Opening this checkpoint was a mistake." Terrorists carrying bombs will soon start trying to pass through it.
    • Jorji's crudely drawn passport is in crayon. Later, it's revealed that crayons are a luxurynote , so there's more to Jorji than it seems.
    • 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...
    • Reading The Truth of Arstotzka can give you information on things that are about to happen. For instance, when the paper runs an article about spinal surgery being perfected in Arstotzka, there will be an entrant trying to enter the country to get surgery.
  • Friend in the Black Market: Potentially Jorji, whose certainly in the right business to be smuggling drugs and other things. Such as forged paperwork and smuggling people, if needed, to other countries.
  • Friendly Enemy: Over time, the Inspector becomes a lot more friendly towards Jorji Costava, to the point where (if you screw up and offend both the government and the rebels) he can save you and your family in one of the endings.
  • Gambit Pileup: The Grestin checkpoint is exactly as eventful as one would expect from the only open checkpoint in divided Berlin. There are several intrigues going on that involve the checkpoint, and you'll be involved in everything from espionage, to smuggling, to treason. For example, one of the biggest subplots is the cold war between Arstotzka and Kolechia, and the Order of the EZIC Star is actively involved in sabotaging negotiations between the two countries. Yet, EZIC is not working with the Kolechian extremists who have been suicide-bombing the checkpoint guards - they're a completely separate bunch of loonies. Should the player care, keeping an eye on the newspaper and instructions will help them keep track of what's going on.
  • Gender-Blender Name: Some travelers, even when they are the gender they claim to be. An entrant having a name usually associated with the opposite gender doesn't count as a discrepancy.
  • Gender Reveal: Some travelers' looks will not match their passport's stated biological sex. Searching them could lead to definite "Oh..." moments, or result in the player ordering the arrest of a crook.
  • Girls with Moustaches: Related to Gender Reveal, it's not unusual for a husky person with facial hair to step into your booth with paperwork identifying them as female...and see that they do indeed have a very feminine body underneath it.
  • 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.
  • Great Escape: Jorji Costava, a drug smuggler, escapes jail three times, and Simon Wens, a serial child killer, escapes a United Federation prison.
  • 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.
    • EZIC and the Arstotzkan government are not very different. The Arstotzkan government is a corrupt totalitarian bureaucracy, but it is willing to cede parts of East Grestin to Kolechia in order to secure peace with Kolechia according to the day 27 EZIC note and is 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 it does not want Arstotzka to cede any part of East Grestin to Kolechia according to the day 27 EZIC note. If you help them topple the government, it's not clear from the ending whether that's for the better or if New Arstotzka will just turn out the same way as Arstotzka.
    • Some of the morally gray decisions are helpfully given an answer in the form of a token given for selecting what is usually the "morally 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!:
    • 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...

    Tropes H-R 
  • Heel Realization: The first time you play the game, you may think to yourself that the first message that you get from EZIC, which says that 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), promising 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 because the new inspector isn't cooperating, 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.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: The border inspector probably has no formal training at handling a gun, but his aim with both a tranquilizer gun and a Sniper Rifle is far better than any of the border guards' aim. Having these aiming skills is necessary because hitting one or more terrorists with your guns earns you a sharpshooter bonus that makes up for the pay for the people you could not process due to the terrorist attacks on the days that these attacks occur.
  • 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.
  • The Inspector Is Coming: Not you, but starting on Day 29, M. Vonel and your bulletin announce that all government workers will be audited, including you.
  • Interface Spoiler:
    • If the inspector doesn't say "Cause no trouble" or "Glory to Arstotzka" to an entrant passing through the checkpoint, expect something to go down on the other side. Sometimes subverted however, but usually not.
    • 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 should always be approved, but their papers might have discrepancies that will always be cleared with a thorough investigation. Likewise, Messof himself always has the right paperwork.
  • In the Hood: All of the EZIC messengers wear hoods that hide their faces, fitting for a conspiracy that aims to topple the government.
  • Instructive Level Design: Each time you get introduced to a new rule, document, or type of discrepancy, it's almost guaranteed the first or second entrant that day will show an example of the new document or let you exercise the new rule. The game's habits about this is Lampshaded in day 14, just as you detain your first wanted criminal.
    Inspector: Funny to see you here. Just when starting to look for criminals.
  • 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."
  • I Was Quite a Looker: If you find a discrepancy between an entrant's appearance and photographs, they may answer that "the years have been cruel" if interrogated. Whether or not this is played straight or a lie depends on the results of their fingerprint profile.
  • 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.
    • The M.O.A. divisional authority of East Grestin - your boss - criticizes you for making any number above 0 citations and has you arrested if you hang unauthorized decorations twice. If you follow the rules and deny someone he's ordered you to allow entry, he is angry and insults you, and if you (also correctly) detain her, you are arrested on trumped-up charges. He makes no effort to pull any strings for you.
    • Of course, you can play this way. For instance, you can keep Danic Lorum's watch and detain him, or sell it to the highest bidder, who offers 10 more credits for its return than he does. You also don't have to return the Arstotzka Arskickers pennant to Filipe Hasse. Both call you out on your behavior.
  • Just Following Orders: If you want to remain completely loyal to your employers or just receive zero citations, you basically have to invoke this attitude. The game will try to sway you away from following orders by testing your morality and loyalty with sob stories and bribes. The justification is also tested by the rules changing on a day-to-day basis, sometimes even undoing previous rules that could have gotten people denied entry or detained.
  • 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.
  • Lady Looks Like a Dude: Some women have heads that look like they belong on men. You have to strip search them to find out that the passport's stated biological sex is true. If your strip search discovers that the passport states that the entrant is a woman when you find that the entrant is a man, you can arrest him for having falsified documents.
  • 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 internationally wanted criminals of the day trying to cross your border. You are given a "Wanted!" Poster with their photos on it. 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.
    • Handing over the two EZIC cards to M. Vonel, the Ministry of Information Secret Police, seems to be the right thing to do, but the inspector will get arrested and investigated for his connection with rebels, and you will unlock the "Too Honest" achievement.
    • Jorji points out the Power Perversion Potential of the search scanner.
      Inspector: Face the scanner.
      Jorji: Maybe things get too sexy in here.
  • Lethally Stupid: After the United Federation suffers from a polio epidemic, you are required to deny entrants who do not have a current polio vaccination. People who have an expired polio vaccination, have a certificate of vaccination that lacks a polio vaccination, or have no certificate of vaccination at all are considered this trope, and the Ministry of Health has required you to deny these people to keep polio out. Some of those who have no certificate state that they do not believe in vaccines.
  • Literal Metaphor: Obristan's motto is "Obristan Above All". On the map, it's above all of the other countries, being the northernmost.
  • Lovable Rogue: Jorji, the inept and comical drug smuggler. You grow fond enough of him to address him by name and even apologize when you detain him.
  • 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. Also, different entrants take more time to process than others, which will affect your score in either the timed or perfection game modes. In the perfection mode, the amount of points per properly-processed entrant awarded decreases by one every minute until you are awarded one point per properly-processed entrant.
  • Made of Explodium: If a terrorist's motorcycle is shot (even with something as weak as a Tranquilizer Dart), it explodes and causes Splash Damage to nearby terrorists and motorcycles.
  • Mandatory Motherhood: Arstotzkan workers are expected to support large, healthy families. If you fail to do just that, you are fired and the game is over.
  • Meaningful Background Event: If you approve entry for Elisa and allow her to reunite with Sergiu, the two of them will run towards each other, embrace, and walk towards Sergiu's post. After another hug, Elisa walks away. All that happens while you're still processing more entrants.
  • Medal of Dishonor: If you've received any citations, the plaques you receive read like this. For 1-20 citations, the plaque reads "Recognition for Sufficience", and for more than 20, the plaque reads "Recognition for Presence". An entrant on day 12 mentions that all of the plaques look cheap and will tell you "Way to go" if they see that you're recognized for your presence.
  • 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.
  • Mickey Mousing: The title screen scrolls up and then bobs up-and-down to the tuba in the main theme.
  • 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.
  • Moving the Goalposts: The rules of Grestin border checkpoint change in the matter of days, as the gameplay becomes a lot more difficult toward the player. Aside from making your life harder, this significantly affects some entrants who do not adapt to sudden changes, rendering their paperwork invalid.
  • Multiple Endings: Depending on how much money you make and how you respond to certain events. A list of the endings with unmarked spoilers: Click to expand 
  • Multiple Identity IDs: One entrant will accidentally give you two passports with identical photos, but different names, nations and ID numbers. Your detain button pops up immediately. Several other entrants will have one name on their passport and a different name on their supporting documentation; they will claim I Have Many Names, requiring you to do a fingerprint check against the person's identity record which includes any known aliases. This either explains the alias or builds an airtight case of identity fraud which gives you the option to arrest the entrant.
  • Mundane Made Awesome: Be honest, do you think actual border control could ever be this engaging?
  • Musical Spoiler: If you and your family flee to Obristan, you present terribly-forged paperwork to the Obristan border inspector. There's a tense moment before he stamps the final passport, but you already know you've made it past because upbeat music is playing.
  • Mutual Kill: How the attack on Day 2 ends. The assailant gets shot down by the lone guard after lobbing a bomb which kills said guard in the blast.
  • 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).
  • Nerves of Steel: The inspector retains his usual stoicism during the bomb scare on day 15, and Calensk is outright flippant.
  • Never Hurt an Innocent: EZIC makes it very clear that they abide by this rule. Following a Kolechian terrorist attack, they send a messenger to tell you that their organization was not involved in it at all due to their unwillingness to hurt innocent people, and they even send another agent to look into the matter.
  • Nice Guy:
    • Jorji. No matter how many times you deny or detain him, he remains nice to you. On one day, he even gets in line to see you. He'll also provide you a way to leave Arstotzka if you need to.
    • Sergiu is pleasant and polite to you from the start, and he visits the booth a few times during his stay to chat with you. If you allow his long-lost love through the checkpoint, she thanks you with a 100-credit gift at the end of the next day. If you deny her, explaining to Sergiu that she should come back with proper paperwork, he simply says, "You know this is impossible."
  • 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.
    • The game seems to be set in a fictional version of the Communist era Balkans if this in game map is to be believed. Compare it to a map of the Balkans during the Cold War.
      • If the above is true, then the United Federation is hands down this universe's version of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. Not only are both countries Federations, but both are to the furthest left of the Balkan Eastern Bloc, the borders for both seem to be similarly shaped, and Yugoslavia's leader Tito was the leader of the Non-Aligned Movement, meaning Yugoslavia got more access to western consumer goods as the United Federation is mentioned to have access to computers.
  • No-Damage Run: One of the Endless Mode games, Perfection, requires you process entrants without any citations. Note that it is technically impossible to complete the main story due to a story-mandatory citation as there is no way out of getting a citation for confiscating Jorji's passport but you can still attempt a no-damage run outside of those instances.
  • 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 M.O.I. investigator may be the right thing to do, but you'll be arrested on suspicion if you do so.
    • If you haven't allowed the two EZIC agents in (the first two EZIC tasks), a messenger give you a note that asks you help them. At this point, even if you do everything EZIC asks you to do, their agents will still try to kill you on the final day, since you need to have completed at least four tasks.
  • Non-Standard Character Design: Dimitri, Sergiu, Calensk, and M. Vonel's looks are unique. Additionally, Vonel stands out because his complexion is grey and he wears a black uniform, a color combination which no other character has. It helps make him look more ominous. EZIC agents wear dark hoods that completely hide their faces, with a single glowing eye within shaped like the EZIC Star.
  • 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.
  • Noob Bridge: New players who don't don't bother to read the bulletins may get stuck when Jorji enters with no paperwork at all. The player is supposed to go into inspection mode and highlight the passport rule and the empty counter.
  • No One Left Behind: Getting the "Snowier Pastures" Steam achievement requires you to escape to Obristan with all of your (living) family members. Going there alone results in an ending with the "bad" music.
  • No Points for Neutrality: If you decide to help EZIC, you better do enough of their tasks because completing at least one makes you a traitor to Arstotzka, but not completing the required four won't get you on EZIC's side. If you take this route, you better have a way to escape the country.
  • Not Even Bothering with an Excuse: Jorji, when he's caught attempting to smuggle contraband.
    Inspector: What is this?
    Jorji: Is drugs!
  • 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 Catch Phrases like "Glory to Arstotzka" and "Obristan Above All".
  • Nudity Equals Honesty: All entrants stripnote  on command when you click the search button. Those without contraband and those whose heads look like the opposite biological sex than what is stated on their passports but whose bodies match the said biological sex demonstrate this trope.
  • Obstructive Bureaucrat: People can wait in line for hours to see you before being told that their entrance were denied because of missing required documents, missing polio vaccines, or expired documents.
  • 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, Lucas Pope went this way instead of having a more fallible system so it would be obvious when you slip up.
  • One-Hit Polykill:
    • If you shoot at the queue (even with a tranquilizer gun), you will kill the person you aimed at and anyone standing close enough.
    • On the day three terrorists attack the checkpoint, shooting either motorcycle causes it to explode, and doing so will kill the other rider via Splash Damage. You can even wait until the person on foot joins one of the motorcyclists to kill all three in one shot.
  • 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.
  • Order Versus Chaos: You can side with the government (order) or with the revolutionary group, EZIC (chaos). You can also decide to flee from both of them.
  • Papa Wolf:
    • If you buy crayons for your son's birthday, he will draw a picture for you, which you can hang on the wall. If you do this, then one entrant will ridicule it, to which you can respond by denying them entrance regardless of whether or not their paperwork is in order.
    • At one point, a father asks you to help him avenge his murdered daughter. This guy apparently tracked her killer across four countries.
  • People's Republic of Tyranny: Republia is implied to be one and is definitely one in Lucas Pope's earlier game, The Republia Times.
  • Perfect Poison: The poison that you receive from an EZIC messenger can be applied to a passport without leaving a trace on whatever it was stuck to. Upon contact, it kills within seconds, and apparently, no one has any idea you had anything to do with the poison.
  • Perpetual Poverty: From beginning to end, you're going to struggle to make ends meet for you and your family (unless you're really good at the game). Even if you accept a 1000-credit bribe, your superiors will catch on and yank it, along with the rest of your savings, 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.
  • 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. Jorji lampshades this trope when you use the scanner on him.
    Inspector: Face the scanner.
    Jorji: Maybe things get too sexy in here.
  • 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.
  • Prison Escape Artist: Jorji Costava escapes jail three times.
  • 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.
  • 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-credit 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, 7 days a week.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: The player again, if you're feeling like a dick. The game is impressively good at wearing you down to this point - there are several videos of Letsplayers who at first apologize to every person they send away. Fast forward a few episodes and see them almost salivate at the thought of finding a discrepancy, simply because it lets them instantly deny the entrant rather than going down the rest of the long, long checklist. Theoretically, you may question entrants so they can explain discrepancies and gain entry if their explanation seems reasonable, but you're never punished for turning people away as soon as a discrepancy shows up, while questioning them takes precious seconds...
  • Punny Name: One of the names for a female entrant is "Anne Nahnumus". Another female entrant goes by the name of "Jaqueline Hyde".
  • Rage Within the Machine: Potentially you, depending on how much you come to hate your own government.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: The player can choose to act as one, requiring a mix of following protocol and doing the right thing in the name of the greater good.
  • 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 to the in-game story). 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 killed 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.
  • Repressive, but Efficient: Your bosses have a fairly close eye on you, at least. Your bosses will discover your errors and cite you for them. Furthermore, if you've done anything for EZIC, Vonel will find out in the end. With that said, they don't really care about petty corruption so long as you keep it "petty" and otherwise do a good job.
  • 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.
  • Retraux: The game's graphical style resembles an EGA game from the early '90s, though the animation is a little too smooth for it.
  • Revenge:
    • On the sixth day, a woman gives you a note saying she fears Dari Ludum will force her and her sister to work at his brothel. If you show the note to Ludum when he appears, he becomes enraged and says he will "break her in two". If you deny/allow him entry without exposing him, he evidently finds out about it anyway because the next day's news says some dancers at a club were found dead.
    • 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, but subtly thins out on days following terrorist attacks, and is noticeably at its sparsest following the attack on day 26.
  • 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.
    • The polio outbreak in the United Federation is based on the 1972 smallpox outbreak in Yugoslavia.
  • Run for the Border: Some people entering Arstotzka are here to escape their country, and their reasons vary from getting a surgery only Arstotzkan doctors can perform to trying to reunite with family across the border before the checkpoint closes.
  • Running Gag: Jorji Costava, a man who comes in repeatedly and almost 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: Arstotzka, with all of the "lovely" features of a 1980s Soviet Bloc country — job lottery, daily rule changes, smugglers, terrorists, etc.

    Tropes S-Z 
  • 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. EZIC will simply adjust their plans if the man in red flees, conveniently making survival beneficial to you and EZIC.
    • If you're low on money and family members are getting sick, you'll sometimes have to decide who gets medicine and who will have to be sacrificed.
    • One happens on day 12, though the player might not realize it the first time they play. The Ministry of Information will leave some papers with the inspector to be picked up later, as well as a fake set of papers to give to an imposter claiming to be an agent of the ministry in the line behind the person who dropped off the papers. If the player gives the fake papers to the imposter, the Kolechian government will kill several of its own citizens, falsely believing them to be Arstotzkan spies. If the player gives the real papers to the imposter, the Kolechians will locate and kill the actual Arstotzkan spies in their country.
  • 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.
  • Schmuck Bait:
    • An EZIC messenger gives you poison to apply to an assassin's passport. The paper says, "DO NOT TOUCH POWDER". If you touch the powder, it's an instant game over.
    • 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 Non-Standard 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.
    • At one point you gain access to a tranquilizer gun to non-lethally subdue attackers. You later gain access to a quite lethal sniper rifle. Actually using it as the messenger suggested will unsurprisingly get you jailed for killing what appears to be an innocent in the eyes of your government. However, at least the messenger makes it pretty clear that using the gun that way is meant to be a sacrifice for their greater good.
    • That scary secret police officer? Yeah, maybe it's not the best idea to give evidence to him that could implicate you in even the slightest way.
  • Screw the Money, I Have Rules!: Two drug smugglers try to bribe the player with 10 credits, which is more than the credits that the player will get for correctly processing them by detaining them. Players can choose to detain them anyways.
  • 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 whom 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. Doesn't stop the player from getting infractions from the state, but oddly enough their good deeds themselves aren't overturned. These actions usually get you Tokens, which are connected to Achievements.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Starting on Day 29, you can escape to Obristan alone, leaving your family behind with their fate unknown.
  • 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.
  • Senseless Sacrifice: An EZIC messenger asks you to kill the man in red, since they consider him dangerous, and they promise that your sacrifice ensures that Arstotzka will be saved. Shooting the man in red immediately ends the game, since you are punished for harming what appears to be an innocent person. It's then revealed that since the replacement inspector isn't cooperative, EZIC cannot continue their activities and must hibernate.
  • Serial Killer: Simon Wens is a serial child killer.
  • Serious Business:
    • Gain a few kilograms 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? Does your face look like it belongs to someone of a different biological sex than what is on the passport? All of this is grounds enough for the Arstotzkan Ministry of Admission Inspector (the player character) to throw you out. If he's feeling merciful or malicious enough, he might just ask for your fingerprints or strip search you in order to either clear the discrepancy to allow you in, or to find enough evidence to call the guards to arrest you.
    • A second offense of having non-approved decorations on the wall of your booth is enough to get you sentenced to forced labor. Although once you realize that the game portrays the frequently absurd internal logic systems of totalitarian governments quite authentically note  and if you try to follow that logic, it makes sense: the serious offense is not so much the trivial matter of non-approved decoration (unless it were subversive, that'd be serious by itself), but the fact that you defied a direct order, any order - totalitarian governments are big on absolutes. If you defy a trivial order like this, chances are you'll defy another order in a more serious situation, and that is a quality intolerable in a state employee and thus a part of the system.
  • Sex Slave: Dari Ludum is trafficking women to force them to work in his brothel. The inspector can detain him to save the women, or let him through or deny him without detaining, only to find out later that Dari Ludum has murdered them.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Implied of Sergiu and possibly the other border guards, who served in a previous war in Kolechia. Sergiu even lampshades how his aim is not what it used to be and how he wishes to be done with the whole soldier business.
  • Shell-Shock Silence: If you don't shoot a certain terrorist or EZIC agent before they lob an explosive into your booth, you will hear a brief "BOOM" and then ringing as the screen goes white.
  • 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.
    • Shae Piersovska is named after the game developer Shay Pierce.
    • Shaddi Safadi is named after Shaddy Safadi, who worked at Naughty Dog alongside Lucas Pope.
    • The ISBN for the rulebook is the same as the one for Nineteen Eighty Four.
    • One of the random entrant names is "Stanislav Parabol".
    • Another random entrant name is "Jaqueline Hyde".
    • And another random entrant name is "Jebediah Kerman".
    • Yet another random entrant name is "Arin Hansonov".
    • One of the randomly generated entrant names is Czeslaw Milosz. This is a reference to Czesław Miłosz, who was a famous Polish poet and a Nobel Prize winner.
    • And then there's Jorji Costava...
  • Shown Their Work: Boy howdy. As mentioned under Adult Fear, this game will trigger an emotional response if you are old enough to have experienced life in an Eastern Bloc state, preferably before Perestroika, or if you have relatives who did. It is, for all its abstraction and the fictional setting, an eerily accurate portrayal of both the actual mechanisms of a totalitarian state as well as quite an authentic immersion in the mood of a typical inhabitant.

    On the one hand, you have a vast, sprawling bureaucracy with a rigid, codified set of laws and instructions, some of which are mutually exclusive or contradictory and liable to change frequently (although the game ramps up the frequency in comparison to Real Life), and which are enforced by a pervasive and paranoid surveillance and security apparatus, which will set its sights on you even for small offenses, because in the totalitarian mindset, this is indicative of a potential for treason in more serious situations (particularly for functionaries of the state) - which was very much Truth in Television in the Brezhnev-era USSR, for instance. On the other hand, the same bureaucracy is thoroughly corrupt and the very people who want you to perform unerringly like an automaton are not above ignoring rules and instructions they draw up themselves if it serves their needs note ...which was just as true.

    These kinds of bureaucracies and the totalitarian states which they administer are themselves governed by logical processes which do differ from those in liberal societies, which makes it hard for young Western first-time players of the game in a liberal nation to understand what is going on or lets them consider it a typical Western satirical exaggeration, while somebody with an Eastern Bloc background will remember/recognize that the game actually does not exaggerate all that much, and will probably intuitively understand better what the pitfalls in play might be. After a bit of practice and exposure to the game, the player will get a sense of the mood of the typical Soviet citizen of the late 70s: the feeling of being a small cog in a vast, inefficient and malfunctioning machine (although you can bet that it will function perfectly the moment it is not it your interests for it to do so), leading to a Just Following Orders mentality and outward conformity to the system while trying to game it for one's own personal aims, which sometimes does work, sometimes not.
  • Simulation Game: Basically a paperwork simulator with some major subplots.
  • Sinister Surveillance: Think you can get away with an easy-to-slip mistake? The citation machine would beg to differ.
  • Small Role, Big Impact: That would be you. You're just an overworked and underpaid border inspector. You determine who gets into the country based on paperwork. Which means your decisions can change people's lives, for good or ill. How you deal with the EZIC organization will determine if the current regime is toppled or stays in power.
  • 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....
  • Somebody Set Up Us the Bomb: A terrorist delivers a bomb to your booth and runs away before you can detain the terrorist. Fortunately, it is easy to disarm.
  • Spanner in the Works: Given that you're good at identifying weight discrepancies, the introduction of the body scanner can foil subsequent suicide-bombing attempts.
  • 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."
    • The other sound byte often heard from immigrants also sounds like "I have them," which makes sense with the above, even though sometimes the immigrant in question doesn't have their papers.
  • Splash Damage: A motorcycle that explodes due to being shot (even with a Tranquilizer Dart) will kill or destroy other nearby motorcycles or terrorists that are close enough.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Sergiu and Elisa, if Sergiu dies or you deny Elisa entry.
  • The Stool Pigeon: An Antegrian whistleblower exposes an Antegrian domestic espionage scandal.
  • Stealth Pun: The newspaper doesn't cost anything, so Arstotzka can claim to have a "free press". It actually is close to a free press in practice, with articles that are openly critical of the government policies.
  • Stupid Crooks: You have to often deal with them.
    • One scripted event involves the immigrant dropping two passports with the same photo but with different names, ID numbers and home countries (one is Arstotzkan, the other is Kolechian), indicating obvious forgery. You don't even have to look at them before the "Detain" button pops up.
    • An entrant fails to present a document. If the inspector interrogates the entrant, the entrant will then present the document. The document sometimes contains incriminating evidence or a discrepancy that requires further interrogation that reveals incriminating evidence. The entrant should have stated that he or she does not have the document. Declaring that one does not have a document merits only a denial. Presenting a document with incriminating evidence or a discrepancy that when questioned reveals incriminating evidence merits detainment.
    • Other criminals don't leave the line even when someone is arrested in front of them.
    • The world's three most wanted criminals are always in line the day the wanted bulletin is introduced. On subsequent days, typically, at least one criminal will try to enter the country. If you perform well enough in the endless modes, they will eventually show up, giving you one chance to arrest them when they do.
    • Vince Lestrade shows up in the news then immediately shows up at the checkpoint with perfectly correct documents (with his full name on them), and somehow is surprised that you recognize who he is.
  • Stupidity Is the Only Option: Want to unlock all the endings? 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.
    • Jorji's "Cobrastan" passport appears to be drawn in crayon, and the inspector points out that it's a crude fake.
    • The love poem an entrant gives you isn't very well made, similar in style to Jorji's fake passport.
  • Suicide Attack: There are several suicide bombers in this game. Once you get a scanner and papers that state entrants' weight, you can detain them before they blow themselves up by highlighting the mismatched weights, enabling the inspector to use the scanner to find the bombs, and then detaining them.
  • Suspect Is Hatless: Starting on day 13, foreigners will have to carry an ID supplement, which describes their appearance. Some of them simply say that the entrant doesn't wear glasses or has short hair or something equally non-descriptive. This description still manages to expose many Stupid Crooks and causes several false positives that must be overridden by matching fingerprints.
  • Suspiciously Specific Denial: Jorji, the day he appears when his face is in the wanted bulletin.
    Jorji: Everything is definitely ok with me. For sure I am not in criminal bulletin or anything!
  • Suspicious Spending: You are subject to an audit if you don't burn EZIC's large monetary gift. You are an underpaid border inspector, so your neighbors will grow suspicious of your sudden wealth and report you. To EZIC's credit, they will apologize for their mistake and clear you of any wrongdoing if you admit their agent into the country and send you smaller and plausible gifts from now on. It really was incredibly naive of you to deposit all that loot, instead of hiding it someplace reasonably safe; what were you thinking?
  • 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 sniper rifle to stop attackers.
  • Take a Third Option: If you want to help EZIC with all of their tasks, one of them involves poisoning an assassin called Khaled Istom. If you poison him as instructed and allow him entry, he dies after a few steps past the border, and a guard checks on the body, which kills the guard, too. If you poison him and deny entry, he and a bunch of people in line die from the poison. It seems impossible to not let an innocent die while carrying EZIC's order out, but you can kill only Istom if you keep him in the booth until 6:00 and let everyone walk away before denying him.
  • Take That!: A subtle one, but after you are forced to check for proper vaccinations from people travel from certain countries, you'll likely have someone try to enter without any vaccinations, at which point when you point it out, they state they do not believe in vaccinations. That's all you need to deny them, making it somewhat apparent that the game's creator isn't a fan of those who don't believe in getting vaccinations.
  • Take Your Time: Time won't advance until you call the first entrant of the day into your booth. Until then, you are free to peruse the instructions and guide book to your heart's content.
  • Tempting Fate: "For sure, I am not in criminal bulletin or anything!" Unfortunately, Jorji is...
  • Terrible Artist: Your son. Granted, he's a child, but in the "old family photo", he doesn't look that young, either. If you hang up his drawing the day after you receive it, an entrant will comment that their dog can do better.
  • This Is Gonna Suck:
    • If you're not making much money and can barely keep your family alive, you're going to brace yourself for the citation printing noise every time you process an entrant.
    • 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...
    • Every time the rules get updated in the morning. Especially if it's introducing yet another piece of documentation that you gotta verify.
  • Threat Backfire: When you have the option to detain one of the world's three most wanted criminals, sometimes he or she will tell you to let him or her through "or you'll regret it". Unfortunately, the criminal will regret it if Calensk and another armed guard come to take them away.
  • Time Bomb: If you fail to defuse the bomb dropped on your desk in a limited amount of time, it blows you and Calensk up.
  • Timed Mission: Your pay is based on how many people you can (correctly) process by the end of the work day. You can't rush through people: if you admit entry to someone you should have denied or arrested, 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.
  • Time-Limit Boss: All of the terrorists except for suicide bombers that you can stop by detaining them are this once you have access to the tranquilizer gun and/or sniper rifle. You have a limited amount of time to shoot them before they start killing the guards, the guards shoot the terrorist trying to ram you with an explosive motorcycle, or EZIC bombs the border wall.
  • Title Drop: The game's name is the first thing the inspector says to anyone who enters the booth.
  • 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. If you want to complete the game with minimal citations, you'll have to do some pretty mean things, such as turn away the entrant carrying medicine and approve the entrant who wishes to be denied to get out of a bad job.
  • Token Good Teammate: The player is working for a horribly oppressive government. But even if he refuses to join EZIC, he can still bring two murderers to justice, reunite a soldier with his lost lover, keep a married couple together, help a sick man get life-saving surgery, rescue two girls from a human trafficker, bring said human trafficker to justice, brighten a lonely entrant's day, and prevent the spread of hazardous drugs into your country.
  • Took a Level in Badass: The inspector, once you have access to a tranquilizer rifle. Think of the many guards you could save from terrorist attacks with a well placed shot.
  • Tranquilizer Dart: The player gets access to a tranquilizer gun when budget cuts forces the job of guarding the border to the inspector.
  • Tuckerization: The developer took name submissions for potential immigrants from the public.
  • Turncoat: You can turn against Arstotzka and help overthrow the government by doing EZIC's tasks. At the beginning of day 31, a messenger will give you a note that says that EZIC will keep you safe; hold your fire. If you so wish, you can shoot their agents at the last moment, betraying both EZIC and Arstotzka. Let's hope you have enough money to escape to Obristan.
  • Twisted Christmas: If you help EZIC at all but don't help them enough that they'll see you as an agent, and you don't escape to Obristan, then you'll be arrested and sentenced to death on Christmas Eve.
  • 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.
  • Undying Loyalty: One of the good endings requires you to not help EZIC at all and stay loyal to Arstotzka.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: The western journalists who show up with press passes instead of proper paperwork and expect to be let in to expose your country's corruption. If you let them through, they write scathingly about how incompetent the border control is.
  • Unstable Equilibrium: If you don't have enough money for food or heat, your family members will become sick. If you don't buy sick family members medicine (on top of the daily food and heat), other family members will become sick, requiring more medicine. Conversely, once you become really good at recognizing information and discrepancies and remembering which entrants can be quickly processed, you can accrue more than enough money to buy everything available and still leave more than a thousand credits in your account.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: Nobody around you bats an eye at the hooded people with the EZIC symbol on their face. You'd think M. Vonel would also notice the suspicious cards on the counter right in front of him.
  • 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. Even more amusing is that the system sees this as clearing the discrepancy.
      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.
    • If you get some artwork from your child and hang it up at your work station, one scripted entrant will insult it. If you deny or detain them for any reason, they think it's because they offended you and proclaim that such art should be in a museum.
  • 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 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).
    • On the same day there will be a terrorist attack. That same guard can be one of the casualties if you're too slow. If you manage to save him, he will be eternally grateful to you for not only reuniting him with this love, but also saving his life twice now.
    • 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 credits, thankfully.
    • You don't HAVE to ask questions to anyone with improper paperwork until the time comes where you need to interrogate entrants to activate the reason for denial stamp and use it; 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, have proper paperwork but looks like someone of the opposite biological sex, have bad papers that are not incriminating (e.g. expired or missing paperwork) where interrogation lets the entrant know what is wrong, could use your help to clear discrepancies (e.g. take fingerprints to prove an identity when the person's height or physical description is wrong, take fingerprints to look up a person's claimed alias, perform a search when the weight is wrong to prove that there is no contraband, or have a purpose or duration of stay mismatch corrected) or are criminals that are carrying incriminating evidence that can be exposed by investigating them. 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 for the entrants and allows you to prevent crimes by arresting crooks. The last point requires you to be cruel to the crooks in order to care for society.
    • There's a man and woman on day 5 who appear to be husband and wife saying they're fleeing Antegria because it is an oppressive regime and will put them to death if they don't get over the border. The husband's papers are always in good order, and he goes first, but the wife's papers are never right, but you can allow her entry to spare her (assuming you haven't made any mistakes that day, she can be let through without consequence; she even awards you with her country's token). The newspaper will report on day 11 that a whistleblower has exposed Antegrian domestic espionage, which suggests that the couple was telling the truth.
  • Video Game Cruelty Potential:
    • You can let the guy running the Sex Slave trafficking ring through.
    • You could also just deny everyone entry, whether their papers are good or not, though that'll get you in trouble very quickly.
    • Until the rules change so that you have to interrogate suspicious potential entrants, you make a lot more money by simply denying them, as dealing with the discrepancy wastes time and you're paid by the number of people processed. When you do have to issue a reason for denial, you can just point out the error and use the denial and reason stamps without trying to further clear the discrepancy. This counts as correct processing.
    • The day after the first suicide bomber attack, the rules say you have you search every Kolechian entrant. To save time, you can deny all of them rather than go through the long scanning process.
    • When you find someone with a discrepancy that indicates a typo, stolen document, or forgery, instead of simply denying them, you can detain them since you get a 5-credit bonus for every two people you detain. It's somewhat ambiguous how bad being detained actually is, considering that the guards let Jorgi go without much hassle after he gets caught with drugs. Still, it's probably a stressful and massively inconvenient overreaction to what is more often than not a minor mistake.
    • 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 could be in on the plot to allow the father of one of Simon Wens's victims to kill him.
    • 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.
    • A man will ask you to let his wife through, who happens to be the next person in line and both of them had fled their country to avoid being killed. The husband's papers are cleared, but the wife's is not. You can send her away, separating the couple forever and dooming the wife.
    • Sergiu at one point asks you to let his girlfriend, Elisa, through. Naturally, she doesn't have her papers in order when she shows up. If you deny her entry, she'll ask you to tell Sergiu that she will see him in the next life. If you really want to be cruel, you can deny Elisa entry and allow Sergiu to be killed in the next terrorist attack without him ever knowing that his girlfriend had come by. You can also allow Sergiu to be killed before the day Elisa comes to the checkpoint if you want to feel less bad about denying her.
    • During a "Drown Out" video, Yahtzee Croshaw showed a lot of glee sending people to be detained.
      Croshaw: [to one entrant smuggling drugs] Oh, really? Let me introduce you to these nice men with guns! They'll take you to the place where a lot of people go in but don't seem to come out of so much!
  • 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. Unfortunately most law-abiding people nowadays don't live in a communist dictatorship with a corrupt, ultra-paranoid Secret Police. Doing so will get you investigated and arrested for a Non Standard Game Over. (And unlock the "Too Honest" achievement.)
    • The second time Jorji comes through the office, he has an obviously fake passport that looks like crayon and construction paper. Rather than any of the glaringly obvious problems that can be highlighted, the only one that works (aside from cross-referencing the passport itself with the "All entrants must have a passport" rule in the rulebook) is the name of the country he came from having a minor misspelling. Of course, most players don't bother highlighting anything at this point - they'll just stamp a denial.
  • Voice Grunting: Everyone, including the player, speaks in this.
  • Wake-Up Call Boss: Jorji's first appearance can actually trip up a new player, since everyone before him has been forthright in giving you their papers. Jorji... doesn't give you anything, and if you are stuck, it means you didn't read the bulletin that you are supposed to go through before starting a day, which instructed you how to highlight a missing passport. You could spend precious in-game hours knowing that you're supposed to deny him, but not knowing how to.
  • "Wanted!" Poster:
    • The newspaper prints and circulates one for Vince Lestrade who is wanted for murdering his girlfriend. He is an Expy of Oscar Pistorius.
    • After Arstotzka becomes known as a haven for international criminals (which you helped create if you previously failed to arrest Vince Lestrade), you are handed a wanted poster with the world's three most wanted criminals on it and are required to detain them upon sight.
  • The War Just Before: The story is set in a border checkpoint between the fictional countries of Arstotzka and Kolechia, which recently fought the Six Year War.
  • Weirdness Magnet: Face it, the amount of stuff that happens to the player in over the game makes you wonder if there's something in the air in Grestin.
  • Western Terrorists:
    • The Kolechians are responsible for most of the terrorist attacks early on.
    • EZIC, for all their righteousness, are not above terrorism (though never against civilians).
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: When terrorists strike when there is an entrant in the booth, that entrant is locked in the booth during the emergency. You never get to finish processing the entrant or let the entrant leave. The entrant disappears before the start of the next day.
  • What Measure Is a Mook?: The border guards never get any characterization beyond having terrible aim. Sergiu serves to give them a face and remind the player that even foot soldiers of an oppressive regime are still people.
  • 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 and will have you killed for your betrayal.
    • 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.
    • If you detain the owner of the watch and the owner of the Arskickers pennant without returning the items, they will call you out.
    • On day 25, Sergiu will ask you to approve entry for a woman he met in Kolechia. The next day, she arrives with only her passport, saying that Sergiu's the only person she has and that the authorities wouldn't let her leave for a long time. If you deny her and Sergiu survives the day, you tell him that Elisa should come back with the proper paperwork, to which he responds, "You know this is impossible."
    • Near the end of the game, Jorji eventually offers the player an option of escaping the audit by moving to Obristan, and if the player lets him in, he'll force his passport onto the player before proceeding. The player can opt to confiscate his passport before approval, and Jorji calls the player out on it for a bit.
    • Jorji will also call you out if you deny him on Day 11, when he (for once) shows up with proper paperwork.
      Jorji: This is crap! You know what? Forget it. Arstotzka worst country. You worst person.
    • Your boss Dmitri will call you out if you deny his girlfriend entry but don't detain her, but his jerkassery lessens the impact somewhat.
  • 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.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Simon Wens is a serial child killer.
  • Yank the Dog's Chain: If the player keeps the guard Sergiu alive, Day 26 can having a touching moment where you let in the woman whom he fell in love with. The two happily embrace the moment they see each other, before she leaves and he continues working. That same day, three terrorists will attack the wall, and the player has to be very quick to prevent Sergiu being killed and giving this love story a tragic ending.
  • Yet Another Stupid Death: 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 Fool!: If you arrest an alleged ambassador, he or she might say "You are a fool!".
  • You No Take Candle: Many characters speak in very stilted English. According to Lucas Pope, this is intentional to give the dialogue an Eastern European feel.
  • 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.
  • Zero-Effort Boss: The EZIC attack on the final day is ridiculously easy to thwart with a couple of easy shots because the terrorists are very slow. Since there are multiple endings depending on if you shoot them and when, this is likely intentional to give you time to consider what to do.

    Tropes pertaining to the film 
  • Adaptational Villainy: The Antegrian couple turn out to be Kolechian terrorists.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: The Kolechian terrorists blow up the inspection booth and kill the guards and possibly the Inspector.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • The pistol the Inspector brings with him. Too bad he didn't have a chance to use it...
    • Elisa's locket. If the Inspector didn't have it on his desk as a reminder of what he did, he would've likely denied the Antegrian couple entry.
  • Cutting Off the Branches: The film chooses to go with elements that are optional in the game:
    • Elisa is denied and turned away.
    • The Inspector detains Jorji at least once.
    • Both of the Antegrian couple are approved and allowed to go through.
    • Sergiu is killed in a terrorist attack.
  • Death by Adaptation: The Inspector and Sergiu are (probably) killed at the end of the movie.
  • Downer Ending: It's heavily implied that the Inspector and Sergiu were killed by the Kolechian terrorist.
  • Fatal Family Photo: A delayed version: The Inspector's family photo is prominently shown throughout the film, which culminates to the point when Kolechian terrorists attack the border and possibly kill the Inspector.
  • Foreshadowing: Savvy players who have been keeping tabs on terrorist attacks will see a red flag since Elisa shows up, which by coincidence is the same day a terrorist attack occurs.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: When the Inspector receives Jorji's documentation, you can pause the video while he looks through them. It has the same information Jorji wrote on his crayon passport.
  • Jumpscare: The Inspector asks an immigrant for their documentation, then the booth blows up.
  • Moral Dilemma: The Antegrian couple arrive at one point. When it turns out the wife's documentation had her name spelled differently ("Robynsky" versus "Robinsky"), the Inspector is prepared to deny her entry... but Elisa's locket gives him a painful reminder of what happened earlier, so he breaks protocol and lets the immigrant through along with a reminder to bring correct documentation next time.
  • Mundane Made Awesome: Some segments show how the discrepancy checker function would work mentally, as shown as the Inspector scans through the assorted documents.
  • Mythology Gag: Jorji Costava shows up with a "Cobrastan" passport. It looks a lot more professional, but he's quickly taken away due to an obviously-forged identity supplement.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: The Inspector is clearly going through this after denying Elisa entry.
  • Necessarily Evil: The film makes a great job pointing out that in the dystopian setting, such harsh entry requirements may be necessary to stop terrorist attacks as was demonstrated by the Inspector's act of kindness. Such measures would not be needed at all in a peaceful region.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: An even more extreme example than any from the game. After denying Elisa, the Inspector decides to atone by breaking protocol to allow the Antegrian couple through. Unfortunately, they turn out to be Kolechian terrorists who kill both Sergiu and possibly the Inspector.
  • Rule of Drama: The filmmakers stated this was the reason for Elisa being turned away.
  • Smash to Black: We get this as we hear the sound of the terrorist shooting and likely killing the inspector.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Elisa is turned away, and Sergiu is killed by Kolechian terrorists.
  • Stylistic Suck: As expected, Jorji shows up with forged documentation. The passport itself looks a lot better, but his identity supplement looks worse.
  • Suicide Attack: The Antegrian immigrant the Inspector breaks protocol for is a suicide bomber.
  • Wham Shot: When the Inspector sorts through the documentation of various immigrants, Elisa's name shows up at the end of one.

"It says here that you are to view the article all week."


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