Papers Please header image videogame

Teaching with videogames: dystopian narratives and 'Papers, Please'

Papers, Please is a fascinating 32-bit game that uses style, story and game mechanics where players experience the bureaucracy of evil as a passport control agent in a fictional cold-war setting.

In this lesson, we consider the way the game mechanics deepen a player's empathy for the character who is regularly forced to choose between evil choices and keeping their job. We also compare the experience of playing the game with dystopian film and television narratives.

Content note: the game contains themes and stories that will be confronting for any students with experience of immigration or refugee migration. Watch the trailer below or this collection of endings, read this review, and consider if the game is suitable for your students.

Year levels: Year 11, possible to adapt for year 10

Subject areas: Media

Technology involved: Papers, Please licence is $14.50, for this lesson we use around one licence per four students

NB. The game is 32-bit only and will not work on macOS 10.15 or higher at the time of writing

Download the full lesson plan

The lesson plan includes links to the Victorian Curriculum, indications of lesson timing, and ideas for differentiation and assessment.

In this lesson, students will

1 Play the game Papers, Please, and consider the way game mechanics force a player to make "evil" choices
2 Analyse the narrative potential of a videogame and compare it with a film in a similar genre
3 Identify and analyse game mechanics
4 Compare audience experience in videogames and films

By the end of this lesson, students should

media language
dystopian characteristics
game and story mechanics
be able to
identify film and game differences
analyse and contrast the different ways players are affected
understanding of player choice narratives
analytical writing and speaking

Authorial credit

You are free to copy, communicate and adapt this lesson plan which was created by Dean Ashton, Alora Young, Emma McManus and ACMI and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.