The game puts players in the shoes of an immigration inspector tasked with approving or denying people entry into a fictional country. Speaking to Polygon, Pope said the game was inspired by his time spent travelling internationally and seeing the tension at airports, as well as the technical nature of customs and immigration inspections.
"Immigration inspectors are constantly looking out for terrorists, spies, smugglers and criminals," he said. "The technical nature of the inspection made me think that there were enough elements there to construct a fun game."
Pope told Polygon the game started with the basic concept of comparing information spread across multiple documents using a spot-the-difference mechanic, "but with drab documents instead of colorful pictures," he said. "Somehow, this is still fun for me." From there, he put together story threads and short narratives which, in turn, influenced what mechanics would be layered over the top.
"The technical nature of the inspection made me think that there were enough elements there to construct a fun game."
At the lowest level, Pope says he hopes people enjoy the game's mechanics, like the process of checking documents and the stamping, which he says "was a lot more fun than it should be."
At a higher level, he hopes players will takeaway a message about empathy. The game features a night-time family management element, which exists to provide context and "apply pressure" on the player's day-time decisions. "There's a point here that denying someone's entry is not necessarily personal. Sometimes authority is a complete asshole, and sometimes they're just some guy/girl like you or me trying to do their job and keep their family warm and fed."
Papers, Please is currently up for voting on Steam Greenlight.