papers please
The 11th Annual Games for Change Festival kicks off in New York on April 22, shining a spotlight on video games and developers pushing the medium not just as quality entertainment or educational tools but as venues for social justice. On Tuesday the organization announced its finalists for the Games for Change awards, honoring eight games for their gameplay, innovation, and their impact in highlighting specific issues from underage drinking to the dangers faced by migrants crossing the US-Mexico border. At least two nominees were amongst Joystiq's favorite games of 2013.

Leading the pack with nominations in both the Most Innovative and Best Gameplay categories is Lucas Pope's Papers, Please. The viciously depressing but highly playable border crossing simulator forces players to choose who comes into and leaves the fictional communist nation Arstotzka. Pope's game captured no small portion of Joystiq staff love, as Jess Conditt, Danny Cowan, and Xav de Matos all listed it on their Best of the Rest 2013 lists.

Gone Home, The Fullbright Company's divisive debut, is also among the finalists for Best Gameplay thanks to how it frames a story of family conflict and sexual discovery inside a gripping environmental mystery. Another favorite amongst the Joystiq staff, Gone Home was number six on our 10 Favorite Games of 2013 list.

Developer Preloaded is the final Best Gameplay nominee for its game TyrAnt, a real-time strategy game that details social and survival habits of ants.

Joining Papers, Please in the Most Innovative category are SoundSelf by Robin Arnott and Súbete al SITP by 12 Hit! Combo. Súbete al SITP, in addition to having some pretty nifty bus driving on iOS and Android, pulled double duty in Bogotá, Columbia since it educates residents on the newly revamped public transportation system. SoundSelf, designed with VR tech like Oculus Rift in mind, is a surreal blend of abstract visuals and sound by the sound designer of The Stanley Parable. Arnott describes it as a game that "takes advantages of loopholes in human perception to induce an introspective state of ecstasy."

Most Significant Impact nominees tackled social issues ranging from the intimate to the international. Migrant Trail by Gigantic Mechanic is a first-person spin on The Oregon Trail placing players in the role of a Mexican migrant worker attempting to cross the US border. It's based on Marco Williams' documentary The Undocumented. Kognito's Start the Talk, meanwhile, is an RPG built to help parents talk to children about the dangers of alcohol.

Rounding out the finalists is The Mission US: A Cheyenne Odyssey. A joint project between Electric Funstuff, public television station THIRTEEN, and American Social History Project, The Mission US simulates life for the Northern Cheyenne tribe in the mid-19th century as it struggles with the push of white settlers and the institution of Native American reservations.

The Games for Change Awards ceremony will take place on April 23 at the NYU Skirball Center for Performing Arts.
[Images: Lucas Pope]
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Papers, Please

This article was originally published on Joystiq.