Blog Post

Podcasting, Politics, and "Papers, Please"

Arstotzka Flag

At the end of January, I got back together with Kyle Romero and Terrell Taylor and we recorded the second episode of Scholars At Play. For this episode, we played the 2013 classic indie game Papers, Please developed by Lucas Pope and read a review by games academic Rui Craveirinha, as well as a journal article about the role of ritual in US border policy by Adam McKeown. For those not familiar with the game, Papers, Please​ places the player in the fictional, soviet-ish country of Arstotzka as a border control officer who has to deal with an increasingly complex series of rules and regulations about who to let into (Glorious) Arstotzka, and who to turn away. Through clever design, Pope manages to turn the bureaucratic process of document-checking into an intense and intriguing story about how that very process obscures the identity of those who pass through your checkpoint while also offering brief moments for you to step outside the rules and resist.

If it's not apparent already, we chose to analyze this game largely as a response to the election of Donald Trump and the increase in anti-immigrant rhetoric in the US and around the world. What we were completely unprepared for (as was much of the US) were Trump's Executive Orders banning travel from a handful of Muslim countries to be signed a day before we recorded. As I mention in a short message that we chose to insert at the beginning of the episode, we weren't even aware of the consequences of this executive order until a few hours after we had recorded. While I do feel like our conversation did some justice to some of the issues surrounding Trump's EOs, it got me thinking not only about the relevance of doing cultural criticism during times when political action is desperately needed, but also about how our podcast and the objects we choose to talk about relate to our contemporary moment.

Since I think the podcast itself works through this first thought fairly well, I want to talk a little bit about that second thought and how I see our podcast fitting into the contemporary landscape of cultural criticism, but also specifically podcasts, and more specifically, gaming podcasts. So far, we've chosen to work with games that are at least a few years old - Bioshock came out in 2007, and Papers, Please​ came out in 2013. In our next episode we'll talk about Civilization 5, a very popular iteration in the Civilization​ series which came out in 2010. However, we could have done an episode on Civilization 6​ which just came out at the end of 2016, and we did think about doing that, but decided against it for a variety of reasons. First, not all of us at the time had easy access to a machine that would run Civilization 6, ​and by extension we also imagined that our audience might be in the same boat. This fact is nothing to brush aside - gaming can be a very expensive hobby, and it can be very easy to forget that the question of who has access to new games falls along economic and class lines. However, beyond this economic question, I also feel like Scholars At Play is an opportunity to ​not ​talk about the newest games. Personally I listen to a few gaming podcasts, and while I enjoy them immensely, they are (almost) always about whatever is new or has received a major update recently. While this means that I can keep up with what's happening ​right now ​in gaming by listening to these podcasts (without actually having to spend 10-20 hours on every new game), it does mean that games that would be good to revisit, perhaps in relation to significant current events or trends, often don't make it into these cutting-edge podcasts.

This is where I see an opportunity for Scholars At Play. Because we are not beholden to any requirements to cover the new, we are free to cover anything that might feel relevant, regardless of how old it is. In some cases this might mean covering a political game in relation to a political occurrence as we did with our second episode, but it also might mean focusing on something that's particularly relevant to the co-hosts, or a particular discourse in academic games studies or games journalism on the internet that has gotten us thinking.

On that note, if you have any games or reviews, articles, videos, or blog posts related to games that have been particularly interesting for you, feel free to post it in the comments or send it to us at If you listen to the podcast and have any thoughts, feel like we missed something, or just want to comment, you can also send those thoughts to us at the same e-mail address or just @ us on Twitter at

Keep an eye out for our next episode sometime early in March.​ Until next time!



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