Papers Please – Art… imitating life… imitating eLearning

Most of us in the business of eLearning design and development are already well aware of a rising trend in our industry known as “gamification.” For those out there who might not have heard the term before, gamification is the use of recreational game concepts, design and mechanics in a non-game context such as eLearning.

Having worked in eLearning design and development for about a decade now, I\’ve come across (and also created) many examples of eLearning products that use elements of gamification.

Recently, however, I stumbled across something a bit different. I found a game (like, a proper game, you know?) that was full of very well-executed elements of eLearning.

Papers Please by Lucas Pope is a very successful, quirky and innovative indie game, which is an inspiring example of where eLearning gamification could go.

Generally speaking, the aim of gamification in eLearning is to increase user engagement, retention and learning outcomes by presenting the content, and then testing the user\’s understanding of it, in a way that is fun, stimulating and increasingly challenging.

The game places the user in the role of a newly appointed Border Checkpoint Officer in a Soviet 1982 setting. Sounds ominous, I know, but it’s elegantly simple, flawlessly made and surprisingly addictive.

Your job, as you play this game, is to check the validity of various forms of paperwork provided by potential candidates for immigration, and approve or decline their entry into your home country.

How does this relate to eLearning?
Well, considering this recreational game is essentially a simulation of an administrative process, the very same concepts and techniques could be applied to fulfil the right client’s staff procedural training needs.

So, what can we learn about successful gamification from Papers Please?
Progressive difficulty. The game starts out simple… you’re only accepting returning citizens of your home country with a valid passport. With each subsequent round, additional layers of complexity are gradually added until you are required to check the validity of several supporting documents for each applicant, and cross-checking their information against each other and against the physical attributes of the applicant themselves. By slowly easing players into this complexity, the game effortlessly trains you in what would ordinarily be considered a complex role with many administrative nuances.

Race against the clock. Papers Please has you trying to process as many applicants as possible in the time provided without receiving too many citations for mistakes made. In the game, your performance affects your income, which affects the health of your character and their family. Not only do you have to be accurate, but you have to do it quickly too.

Technically achievable. Papers Please was originally made in Flash and ported over to the PC game platform. It utilises simple but stylish 2D graphics and animation, and the simple interactivity mechanics of point-and-click and drag-and-drop, all of which are within reach of any decent eLearning provider. The real challenge is in the concept, design and quality execution.

The vibe. It\’s snappy dialogue. It\’s in-game instructions disguised as daily bulletins and newspaper headlines. It\’s the music. It\’s the consistent and strong (albeit very simple) graphic style. It\’s the very few powerfully dramatic story screens (image and caption). Individually, these are achievable goals for any digital production, but when they all come together as they do in Papers Please, the result is far greater than the sum of its parts.

Critical acclaim. Papers Please has won scores of industry awards including Best Game 2013 from leading publications including The New Yorker, Wired and PC World. It sold over 500,000 copies at $10.00 US each in the first 8 months since its release.

Papers Please represents to me the perfect example of where simulation-based eLearning gamification could be headed. It\’s inspiration for any companies that are brave enough to desire a training product for their staff that is so effective and challenging, that it’s actually really fun!

Shane Leonard
Senior Media Specialist
PulseLearning APAC

For more information on Papers Please, go to

Relevant factoid:
Melbourne\’s own Metro Trains recently had huge success with their public service announcement campaign “Dumb Ways to Die.” This (what not to do) safety campaign included a very popular and fun game app, which has seen great success in both Android and iOS marketplaces. The responsible advertising agency, McCann Melbourne, has won several Webby Awards, the Grand Trophy at the 2013 New York Festivals International Advertising Awards, and cleaned up at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, bringing home 5 Grand Prix awards, 18 Gold Lions, 3 Silver Lions and 2 Bronze Lions, the most for any single campaign in the festival\’s history.

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