I Played Through Payback, the New Game About College Debt

You might remember Spent, the online game that was designed to teach people how difficult it is to make ends meet on a low income. Now, the team behind Spent has a new game designed to teach people how difficult it is to get through college without racking up massive debt.

This game is called Payback.

Payback takes less than ten minutes to play, so I gave it a test. I tried to make the same choices I made when I was an undergrad: I went to an out-of-state public school; I stayed in the dorms all four years; I skipped sororities, studying abroad, and spring break trips; I worked through summer breaks.

Here’s how Payback claimed I’d end up:

In real life, I graduated with no debt, thanks to scholarships. I also graduated with no job—and wouldn’t find a job earning close to $43K until after grad school.

But I was most disappointed in the fact that Payback claimed my choices would make me unhappy. Every time I elected to work over the summer or to spend spring break in the library, Payback decreased my happiness meter. But I actually enjoyed my summer jobs, for the most part, and I loved the library. I remember feeling badly that I couldn’t afford to go to the big concert, just like Payback said I would, but it was like… a 24-hour unhappiness. Not the kind of thing that would give me three frowny faces after graduation.

I do appreciate that Payback tries to get users to consider personal fulfillment as one of the costs of college, and that there’s also a meter for making friends/networking. (Mine went up when I got summer jobs and went down when I skipped spring break.) I was amused that Payback dinged me severely for not taking an unpaid internship—I missed out on both skills and connections—and still rewarded me with a $43K job at the end.

Anyone else want to give Payback a playthrough and share your results?

Support The Billfold

The Billfold continues to exist thanks to support from our readers. Help us continue to do our work by making a monthly pledge on Patreon or a one-time-only contribution through PayPal.