Celebrity Calamity: A Game That Teaches Finance Through Stardom

alicealbudgetHere's a new approach to teaching financial literacy: a video game in which you play the business manager of a free-spending celebrity, trying to satisfy her wish list while keeping her out of the red.

The game is no World of Warcraft. It's a simple, mildly-amusing Flash job of the Chimgam ilk that eats up countless working hours nationwide. And it appeals primarily to an audience of women age 18-35 (studies show that women play even more of these "casual games" than men do). The creator of the game, the nonprofit Doorways to Dreams Fund, has a video showing real testers, and they seemed to have a good time with it: "I thought it was wack and you were never going to keep me interested in it," says one tester. "And then I started thinking about the game when I was at home and I was like, I want to play it again!"

Testers showed a 15-30% increase in confidence in their financial skills, and a 55-70% improvement in knowledge of concepts like credit limits, credit vs. debit, APR, and finance charges.

Peter Tufano, the financial management professor at Harvard who helped develop the game, is a kinder, gentler money guy. His work focuses on the best policies, regulations, products and education to help especially lower income and less-educated people cultivate healthy financial habits. (I wrote about his work on savings promoting products last fall.) Financial responsibility is a tough sell, and Tufano's chosen tactic is engagement rather than coercion.

"We can design the best curriculum in the world, but if nobody is willing to spend time on it, it won't work," says Tufano. "Our goal in all of these things is to find something people will voluntarily do."

This is the first of a sequence of video games Doorways to Dreams is developing to teach various financial skills. They're hoping employers and colleges will like the game enough to distribute it. And the concept is catching on elsewhere, too. MTV has a similar initiative called InDebtEd—they just closed a contest that asked students to develop their own game to teach financial literacy.

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