A husband and wife arrive at the border of your country, seeking to immigrate. His papers are in order. Hers are not. Do you let them both in? After a humiliating body search, a man is discovered to be smuggling in medicine. He offers you a bribe. Do you have him arrested?

These are some of the dilemmas presented to the players of Papers, Please, a modest indie video game by developer Lucas Pope. Players take on the role of an immigration officer at the border crossing of a fictional oppressive Eastern European nation during the Cold War ’80s.

A game about examining paperwork sounds like a difficult sell, but that’s why the setting and atmosphere are so important. The player has a family to feed and cannot simply quit. The rules seem to change every day, and too many mistakes (or deliberately ignored rules) will result in fines. The player is as much a slave to the cruel system as the immigrants. —Scott Shackford