Afraid of student loans? With the higher education price tag climbing, you should be. High school students are told that college should be the four best years of their lives, but it might be dangerous to ignore the cost of those four years. Payback aims to educate students so they can make better decisions before drowning in debt.


Payback is an interactive, choose-your-own-adventure game that leads you through the expenses accumulated throughout an entire college career. You begin as all high school students do: by choosing a college to attend and weighing the cost of the school with the financial aid it offers. A debt calculator at the bottom of your screen increases or decreases with each decision that you make. In addition to student loans, there are three other quantities you must balance: your levels of focus, social connections, and happiness.

The best part about Payback is that it makes players consider costs they normally wouldn’t think about before starting school. For instance, I had to decide whether or not to go on a spring break trip with friends, whether I wanted to live in a dorm or off-campus my third year, or if I wanted a part-time job or an unpaid internship the summer before senior year. It even makes players consider small details, such as buying a cookie as a snack because it’s been a long day. The game also gives helpful pointers throughout, such as discussing the ideal time to submit a FAFSA form and telling players to aim for less debt when they graduate than they will make in their first year of employment.


Payback only takes students through a limited number of decisions, which means it doesn’t cover all the financial information you should consider. For example, the game doesn’t talk about student loan interest, which can snowball quickly. In addition, the game doesn’t mention that students can apply for various scholarships at their school or externally.

Our Takeaway:

Payback is an engaging game that educates prospective college students on the very real and immense cost of higher education in America. It takes players through an entire college career’s worth of financial decisions, even calling attention to choices that reveal the many hidden costs. While Payback shouldn’t act as a standalone financial guide, it could be a fantastic starting place for students to consider the immense cost of higher education.

Image: via Payback