Papers, Please strikes me as a game about consequences. The game asks the player to make carefully considered yes or no decisions; as the game progresses it becomes clear that the player’s choices have consequences ranging from the monetary to the personal to the political. Given this decision/consequence system, I found it quite odd that the first seemingly serious moral choice that the player is tasked with making is apparently lacking in consequence.
When Vince Lestrade appears on day five, the player is supposed to recognize his name from the “Truth of Arstozka” newspaper. He has fled his home country of Republia for the potential murder of his girlfriend, but his paperwork checks out – the game does not penalize the player for letting him into Arstozka. The moral dilemma seems clear – the player can turn him away and lose money or allow a dangerous man who may continue to commit crimes into the country. The unexpected catch is that if he is let in, nothing happens. The following day’s newspaper mentions that Lestrade has been spotted in Arstozka, but then nothing – no mention of more murders or suspicious activity. Lestrade disappears from the game.
In a game so heavily based on consequence, why does this choice not matter? It strikes me as especially strange that this fake out occurs at such an early stage, when the player is still very much attempting to understand how the game functions. Is the game conditioning the player to think that there aren’t real consequences to their actions? Why would this be an important lesson for the player to learn?