I’m sure I’ve shipped so many game couples together that it’s hard to keep track of them all. Especially since my attention span for games is quite limited once I lose interest. Additionally, lots of my favourite couples aren’t explicitly stated as couples at all, such as Max Caulfield and Chloe Price from Life Is Strange, who I think most people shipped so hard they were out of the docks and zooming across the Channel before anyone could say ‘canonical same-sex love interest’. In all honesty, I haven’t played many games with canon couples that haven’t been RPGs, and I feel that any romantic options in that case sort of don’t count for this question. For example, if I’m playing a Nord in Skyrim I usually find myself attached to Lydia, the player’s Nordic housecarl who’ll protect you with her life. However, if I’m playing anything other than a Nord, I grow tired of Lydia’s constant bellowing of ‘Skyrim belongs to the Nords!’ and quite soon send her off to keep my house clean. Screw you, Lydia, and screw your racism.
Instead, I’m going to pick a couple in a game that elated me, touched me, and broke my heart. You wouldn’t think that a passport-checking simulator could possibly be interesting, and oh boy, would you be wrong. My favourite game couple is Sergiu Volda and Elisa Katsenja from the BAFTA award winning Papers Please.
Papers Please follows one month in the life of a border security guard for the fictitious Eastern Bloc style country of Arstotzka. This sounds easy enough; let in the people with correct documents, send away the rest. However, the player soon finds themselves with many choices to make – the more people processed, the more money you make for your family. You have bills to pay and food to buy, as well as medicine costs. You choose whether to put your family’s life over everything else, even if that means denying entry to a family without the correct documents, sending them back to the war-torn country they came from. Your compassion is not, however, without consequence. For every incorrect process (if you let in someone you shouldn’t or refuse someone with the correct documents), you incur a monetary penalty. The survival of your family depends on you not making mistakes.
Sergiu appears on Day 17; he is a guard assigned to the Arstotzkan checkpoint to assist with security in response to several terror attacks. It is possible for him to die before meeting his girlfriend Elisa, so the player must keep him alive by using the tranquilliser gun to neutralise any threats before they reach Sergiu (in his initial greeting he says that his aim isn’t what it once was).
If he’s still alive, Sergiu eventually approaches the player, gives them a locket with Elisa’s picture and asks you to let her through, despite her not having the correct documents. Tensions have been high since Arstotzka and the neighbouring country of Kolechia ended the Six-Year-War, which is where Sergiu and Elisa, a Kolechian citizen, met and fell in love. The way he talks about her is adorable and he’s been presented as a pretty nice guy so far. Elisa comes to the checkpoint the next day and you can either choose to let her through or turn her away.
If Sergiu dies before this point, Elisa will say that there is nothing for her in Arstotzka anymore and walks away from the checkpoint. If he is alive, and the player lets her through, she will pass through the checkpoint and walk towards Sergiu. When she is about halfway down, Sergiu will notice her and the two will run towards each other, embrace, then Elisa will walk south out of sight and Sergiu returns to his post. Awh.
It’s hugely heartwarming, in a game that is so bleak and grey, where the sprites are associated with suicide bombers and shootouts, to see an expression of love, and this honestly made me so so happy.
You still have to keep Sergiu alive, though. At the end of this day there is another terrorist attack, and if you’re not quick Sergiu will die. That’s what happened in my first game. I had to replay the day because I couldn’t go on knowing that Elisa and Sergiu were so close to their happy-ever-after. Heartbreaking.
The next day, Sergiu will come to your booth and ask you for the locket back. He also tells you that tomorrow he is being transferred, so that’s the last you see of him. There are so few friends in this game that it’s easy to get attached, and Sergiu is so nice and genuine that it was a bittersweet goodbye.
You can, of course, deny Elisa entry, in which case Sergiu will come to the booth and demand the locket back angrily. He then leaves without a word. You heartless bastard.
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