This is part 1 of a series of blog posts in which I'll talk about why I think "Papers, Please" is one of the most important games released in a while.
To start, I'm going to give a quick high-level overview of my reasons; I hope it's enough to encourage folks to take note of the game. In future posts I'll dive into these thoughts in more depth. Note that this is spoiler-free.
"Papers, Please" is a "sophisticated game"; and when I say that, I don't mean what that phrase has often meant in the past, which is "a game with sophisticated graphics or technology."
But as a quick aside, the game's technology is quite sophisticated: the excellent challenge-generation algorithms, and their seamless interweaving with scripted challenges, are - trust me - very difficult to do well, and something that many designers and coders would either not try at all, or screw up badly. (I wish these kinds of elegant solutions to the problems presented by innovative gameplay had some forum of public acknowledgement.)
Instead what I mean by "sophisticated" here is the real artistic sense of the word: this game has real "literary value", if we have to call it that. But it's an actual game: it's not trying to ape some other art form, it embraces its game-ness, and by so doing so, it does and says things that could not be done or said in any other artistic medium.
The game is also pushing one important and difficult threshold: it makes no pretense of limiting (or even focusing) its emotional palette to the emotions of "fun". Personally, I do find myself having fun playing it, sometimes in surprising ways; but this feels optional, and almost beside the point.
This game has bigger fish to fry than just "fun"; and it fries them all equally well. If, while playing your role in this stark world of bureaucracy and fear, you find yourself having fun, you'll probably feel as I did: a bit guilty. Though the game never takes itself too seriously, you can't help but take it seriously; when you find yourself having mere "fun", it feels either irreverent, or irrelevant. There's a broader canvas being painted-on, here.
More to come! In the meantime, I (obviously) recommend that you play the game.