Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Peace, Land, Bread...and Games

One of the first educational games I ever played was a simple little title called Lemonade Stand.  The idea was you had to earn money by investing in lemons and sugar to make lemonade which you would then sell at a profit.   Of course finding the pricing sweet spot per glass, as well as factors such as tomorrow's weather report, had to be taken into consideration in order to run a successful business.  Early versions didn't have an ending, but later revisions allowed the player to declare victory once they had accumulated $100 in savings.  That might not sound like a lot of cash, but keep in mind this game was meant for children growing up in the 1980s.  So, while becoming a lemonade tycoon might not sound like much to brag about, remember that the real point of this game was to learn what it's like to be a businessman (or woman) and see things through their eyes.

Well, about three decades later I've come across another video game that gives off a very similar vibe, albeit from an entirely different perspective.  Papers Please puts you in the role of a lone immigration officer assigned to a boarder check station for the fictional communist country of Arstotzka circa 1982.  Graphically the game feels like a product of that time period.  Although the sound and especially music are slightly more advanced.  There's also a keep-you-family-alive element to the gameplay that feels straight out of Oregon Trail, another educational title from the eighties.  I could go into more detail about how the game plays, but I think it would be better to just watch a video of someone skilled playing (link), or alternatively simply try it out for yourself.  The free beta/demo version is available for download here.  It's also interesting to note that the game's creator, Lucas Pope, previously made The Republica Times, another soviet era game wherein you manage the government's one and only sanctioned newspaper.

So, why do I consider Papers Please to be an educational game?  Well, frankly I feel like I have a new perspective on what it's like to work in a bureaucracy.  Pretty much anyone who has had to wait in line at an embassy, boarder check, or the DMV knows what it's like to be on the outside looking in.  However, Papers Please allows the player to view things from the other side of the window counter.  Is it fun?  I can't give you a simple answer so I will just say this, In the real world people like to escape to fantasy worlds, but what about the people that live in those fantasy worlds?  Do warriors and mages enjoy pretending to be accountants and lawyers in some dismal labyrinthine bureaucracy?  If the answer is "yes" then I think it safe to say that Lucas Pope has been to that place and he's brought one of the games they play over there back with him.

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