At the bottom of page eleven of Casual Games, Time Management, and the Work of Affect, Aubrey Anable quotes Jesper Juul’s statement about game genres, that they are labeled based upon the mechanics of the game rather than the game’s “fiction.” Anable asserts that although we tend to prioritize game mechanics, casual games clarifies that mechanics are not separate from, and actually, are part of the game’s fiction. The meaning a player derives from a game results from the situational mirroring of both narrative and mechanics. The narrative lays down the framework of the fantasy, and the mechanics allow the entry into this world by serving as fictional ‘actions’ with which we can influence this alternate reality. The game mechanics do not constitute the whole of the game; rather, the mechanics inform the representational narrative presented by the game’s other components in order to convey meaning. This understanding changes how we assign value to games, not as the things that we do to a game, but how those actions change the way we feel about the game, the machine on which we play the game, and about the society in which we participate.
During my playthrough of Papers, Please, I quickly warmed into a physical and mental rhythm of scanning through the paperwork and responding accordingly. Although I was not shuffling and flipping through papers in a small booth, it quickly became fatiguing for my eyes to take in tons of information and discern discrepancies that might be present. By the end of the game, the only motivation for me to continue playing was the narrative arc of the game which fostered my investment into myself as the character, especially in the role of supporting the revolution as a silent ‘agent.’
Anable defines causal games as mavericks within the larger context of games – games that exist in the in between space of time, culture, and feeling. As such, casual games are the fillers of a vacuum created by society’s work and gender systems and thus are often played in short bursts through a series of repetitive motions. Papers, Please could be considered to be a casual game in that the game mechanics themselves are quite simple and straightforward. The game is not complicated by virtue of the actions required of player. Additionally, the narrative of the game is presented in a series of ten to fifteen minutes episodes of gameplay, interrupted by textual ‘cutscenes,’ which allow the player to hypothetically stop at relatively regular increments of time. Most people, including myself, would probably play Papers, Please for longer periods of time, if only by virtue of its compelling fiction, but for the casual gamer who wants to burn some time crushing or fulfilling the hopes of the game’s travelers, the format of Papers, Please naturally lends itself to that sort of gaming experience.