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Games about economics

Long gone are the days when the future was buried deep in piles of dusty, gigantic books in a dark dreary library somewhere. Slowly but surely our lives are becoming more and more dependent on simpler and easily accessible gadgets such as mobile phones, tablets or laptops. I cannot go a single day without playing a game on my phone and it is not always out of boredom. Different games serve different purposes for different people. Some of them help me to think, get past a writer’s block, calm a bad temper down or yes, occasionally, while away time. There is a game for everything and learning is not an exception.

Education experts are now more than ever emphasizing the need for interactive learning. Studies carried out in different institutions and amongst different groupings indicate that learners are guaranteed to recall course content much better if the learning experience is immersive. It ceases to be a tiring lecture about an alien topic and becomes an interesting experience that they can actually engage in life. 

In an effort to make the learning environment more “modern” all disciplines now have apps and games dedicated to helping learners internalize concepts better and faster. So you find discipline is repackaged into an online game and various concepts surrounding it are presented in interesting and innovative ways. These games can take any form; strategy board games, card games, arcade games, and even multiple player games just to make things a little more interesting. 

Perhaps the question at the back of everyone’s mind is this; is this form of learning sustainable in the long run? Can it guarantee a churn out of industry experts or will the products of such a system be half baked professionals who have no idea whatsoever about how to apply acquired knowledge in real-life situations? To answer this in part I would say that the gamification of pedagogy is not used singularly as a stand-alone method. On the contrary, it is a supplement to more traditional teaching methods. Various methods are woven together into a learning experience that appeals to students cognitively and encourages them to continue pursuing their disciplines of choice. In this article, I am going to focus on Economics and how online gaming is shaping the future of the discipline, the impact it has on learners and how this just might be the key to making finance and investment a more familiar and palatable option for learners.

Games economists play

In order to fully delve into the world of online gaming and economics as a discipline, I would have to bring into play a concept I came across recently during one of my readings. Written by Robert Shapiro (former undersecretary of commerce in the Clinton administration also a fellow of the Brookings Institution. Director of an economic consulting firm.) and published on slate.com, the author introduces a phrase in his article which I contend captures the online gaming for learning economics theory quite aptly. He calls it Fantasy Economics. The crux of the article is that economists are by and large obsessed with online games that immerse them into a virtual world where they have to take up various roles that have economic implications.

One of the games that economists love to play is called EverQuest. The game has thousands of subscribers who pay a small fee to experience the thrills of a virtual society. What is emerging is the fact that the community on this game, thousands of whom are online at any one time, engage in actions that have a ripple effect for all the players all over the world. The actions of player X affect those of player Y and so on. Big players in the economic space are now paying more and more attention to games like EverQuest. The worlds depicted in these games are taking a life of their own beyond just a gaming interface. Patterns are emerging and enthusiasts are able to observe varying market conditions, capitalism and how best it can be/should be regulated as well as questions of equality and how this affects the economics of a population.

It is important to also look at games about economics with age sets in mind. If I said the word economics out loud at a random public place it is highly likely that most adults will have an idea what I am talking about. Younger people especially those who fall in the pre-high school category might not really have in-depth knowledge of the same. They might struggle with some concepts regarding economics. In the same way, game developers are able to design a STEM game, there are now economics-based games ideal for beginners. This is a brilliant opportunity for younger age groups to become interested in finance, investment and market trends without having to wait to learn about it in college. Ideas that would otherwise be tedious to explain and quite frankly boring are turned into interesting activities on a colourful and interactive platform. Ideally, the same kind of emphasis that is traditionally placed on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics should be replicated in disciplines such as economics.

One particular game for economists allows players to take up key roles that mimic major economic drivers. For instance, you will find players taking up roles such as airline managers, energy producers and so on. They must produce a product, release it into the market and ensure that they perform better than the competition. Such games, even when played by non-economists have been shown to improve greatly the players’ understanding of market drivers such as the ones mentioned above. The same knowledge, when relayed in the form of texts or lectures, is harder to understand and extrapolate into real life.

Educational games to teach about finance

I was waiting in line the other day for my turn to pay up at a supermarket. The queue was quite long so I took out my phone, checked for messages and swiftly moved on to a game on there that I love playing. It is a visual game that combines comprehension, speed and cognitive abilities to solve puzzles. I hardly noticed when it was my turn at the counter. Games can be consuming so why not design a game about economics and teach useful concepts to the world? A-game, whether it is played leisurely or with intense concentration allows you to behave and think with a winners frame of mind. Your goal is to win and ultimately prevail over the circumstances in the game. It is for this exact reason that game developers and industry leaders are forming collaborations. They have discovered the advantageous frame of mind that gaming puts a player in and it is great for learning.

Games are being used to teach everything from elementary things like brushing teeth for children too hard core science. No area of study has been left behind in this educational revolution. It is actually impressive how many brilliant ideas one would stumble upon on sites like Board Game Designers Forum. There are a number of educational games whose purpose is to teach about finance. For a very long time, traditional education systems have ignored the need to help children develop financial responsibility at a young age, opting to introduce economics and business much later in the curriculum. Unfortunately for most the interest by this time is usually almost non-existent. Coming up with games that teach this furnishes a young generation with real-life skills that they learn to employ early on. A financially sound population comes with numerous advantages including:

A financially numerate population of young people

Young people who make great career choices aligned with their needs

Business acumen that is developed early on

Good financial habits such as saving and investing wisely

In the UK there are programs and enterprises aimed at helping children marry maths and money. This is done using board games and online games which children find engaging and interactive. Now while schools may be targeting young people primarily, gaming to learn about finance is not the reserve of a specific set of people. Anyone with the interest, time and a mobile device with an internet connection can access hundreds of free games online that teach about money and how to handle it. A game designed to teach finance should take a couple of things into consideration.

It should have a friendly user interface

It must be simplified and easy to navigate through

It should have various levels where one can progress upon completing certain tasks in previous levels

It must be engaging and fun

Should offer real-life applications to foster relevance for players

In order to come up with games that are designed to be both fun and educative, game developers have to work hand in hand with experts. Economists are now turning to more modern roles especially in the virtual world. They are hired to help in the conceptualization stages of most of these finance games. This guarantees users content that is not just interesting but more importantly accurate.

Online games to teach about investing

Investing is not just about putting your savings in stocks or starting a business. In fact when it comes to investing the how is more important than the what. Knowing how to do something informs what you end up doing in the long run and ensures that you actually do it right. Think about a few of the most outstanding people in the world. Ziad Fazah who can speak 58 languages, the little girl who can belt out opera tunes at a tender age, the amazing pianist who plays even though they are legally blind. What is it about such people? It is simple, they simply cracked the how when others were still focusing on the what. I am certain you are wondering what in the world this has to do with investing. It actually is very relevant. Open up an investment blog and you are likely to be slapped in the face with so much jargon that you simply log out. When it is not a barrage of jargon it is all the information about what you need to learn to become a good investor. They simply never tell you how to get it done. Knowing how to do something can make the difference between struggling for years and becoming an instant success story.

The gamification of pedagogy might just be the code that has needed to be cracked for so many people who want to be good at investing. The difference between being handed an instruction manual and going through an exercise practically is that the latter forms an imprint in your mind much more than the former. You acquire a skill which you can then employ in future situations of a similar nature. Games designed to teach economics, finance and how to become an investor are a great way of training players on the how rather than the what. They are a hands-on approach which educates you without leaving you with useless terminologies that do you no good if you cannot execute them in real life.

The one thing I struggle with when I have to learn a new concept is the big idea phenomenon. Most people who write about investment and economics are usually industry gurus. This basically means that such people and myself will not be operating at the same level as I read their blog or journal. They are thinking far beyond and are not mincing their knowledge down to a beginner such as myself. This renders their information to me just that; information; Nothing actionable or doable for a small timer who wants to learn how to navigate the basics. Games, even when they are about a complex subject matter like investing, are often structured to help you learn in small bits. It is like eating a huge, rich burger; too big a chunk and you will have a mess on your hands, face and clothes. A game presents you with an idea, takes you through the basics of the idea, presents you with a challenge to see if you have understood the basics before moving you on to a higher level of higher complexity. Games will never forget that you are just starting out. You may not be very numerate, may not have attended any business, finance or economics class but if you are exposed to and engage in online games that teach about investing you might find that you go on to become a super investor. 

Online games to teach about economics

I have always been a reader. I love to sit and have a good read. I am the kind of person who will come away with all the writer intended for me to have by the end of a book or paper. I have friends and colleagues who detest reading. They are smart, driven and wildly successful but they just do not do well with books and classes. Their learning I notice has been more experiential if nothing else. They go through it, navigate and transform experiences to adapt it to their own situation. There are people who are just like that. Online learning, especially through games, is a perfect way to teach this type of person. They are likely to grasp concepts much better through games.

Economics is an integral part of any society but as a discipline, it has been largely avoided by students. Traditionally it is one of those subjects you would only be taught in college or high school at the earliest. Unlike science or mathematics, economics has suffered a shunning until only recently. It is now been integrated into curriculums much earlier. Part of the reason why young people opt out of economics class after the introduction is that it can get boring and technical. No one wants to get stuck in a class listening to lectures about the stock market and trends that affect the economy. It just does not appeal to most learners. Change this information into a game however and suddenly it is a little more interesting. It is no longer about deciphering graphs and seeing information in trends which for all means and purposes mean nothing to you. Here is why online games are the best way for any teacher to educate learners about economics:

It is interactive

It involves the internet and computers. Learners love this

It is fun

Multiplayer online games allow for interaction between players giving room for cross-learning

It is ideal for everyone i.e. beginners and experts

It allows for a step by step type of learning 

It is a cheaper, more accessible option for learners

Education used to be pricy and this created societal divisions based on the learned and the not so learned. You had to belong to an institution or have the amount necessary for tuition before you could start learning certain disciplines. Not anymore. The internet has revolutionised teaching, learning and access to information. If you wanted to learn about economics for instance and did not want the endless pages you would have to read all you have to do is search for an economics game online. The beauty of games is that even if you fail the first few times you can always go back to the beginning and start over. The same goes for teaching. So you have knowledge about finance and would like to teach others what you know. Why not design a game about economics or approach a game developer and collaborate to come up with one? There are so many success stories that simply began with someone doing something as simple as playing a game and getting good at what they do. I truly believe online games are the next big thing when it comes to education and learning.

Economic development games

If one was to analyse the advancements that have been made with regard to learning through the use of IT then the last decade can be cited as one that has seen learning becoming fun and immersive. This change was however inevitable as simply reading books gave way to reading online papers and books, teleconferencing and other modes of e-learning. It is now possible to become an economic development expert without ever leaving your house. All you need is an internet connection and a device and you are set. This is not to say that books should be discarded, in fact, the two learning methods should be used in a complementary fashion to promote better understanding.

One online game that has been extremely successful when it comes to teaching principles of economics is Playconomics. This game offers players the same content they would find if they joined an introductory undergraduate course in microeconomics. As a player, you are in a world filled with various agents. You have to go through various levels and you can only control one agent. Through interactions in the game, the player is able to acquire certain resources which he or she can go on to use for various purposes. You can build houses, trade, consume the resource and so on, much like in the real world. Various levels in the game directly correspond to various topics and subtitles in the Economics course. While the general assumption and initial reaction have been that games designed to teach about economics will outperform the traditional lecture hall set up, there are a few pertinent concerns that have been raised by education experts:

1. This type of learning can be time-consuming and therefore requires hours of commitment. When contrasted to scheduled hourly lectures, the former takes up more of your time.

2. Not everyone learns effectively through games. The style of teaching may only work for a small population

3. Gaming as a method of learning economics may lead to the simple, general awareness of how economics works but yield no factual knowledge based on mastered principles

4. Gaming restricts the amount of information that can be churned out at any given point and the levels may not truly correspond to levels of mastery of economics in the real world

5. Gaming is generally more appealing to male learners. Few female students find it enjoyable.

These are not the only concerns with regard to using games as a tool for learning economics. Critics, for instance, have argued that students who learn economic development through online games cannot truly defend their knowledge. They perform better in essay type of examinations and are not as impressive when subjected to multiple choice questions. While this argument raises important questions, you cannot ignore what it implies. I, for instance, would argue that a learner who performs better in an essay examination is better versed in a subject matter than one who simply picks the right multiple choice in a cluster. They (the essay writers) have learned the how of the discipline and not simply the what. So while a student who can quote facts and figures and recite whole chapters may seem astute and learned, it may be better to have one who can explain why and how even if it is with non-technical terms. This is a debate about knowledge application versus reproduction. 

Psychologists in the education sector have argued that the reason why gaming may be a better learning option when it comes to complex subjects is because of the emotions elicited. When a learner is playing an online game there is a surge of positive emotions and an equal positive surge in self-efficacy is expected. Attitude when it comes to learning is everything. This is where books and lectures have failed, computer-based simulation games are succeeding. You do not need to be a student of economics to play one of these games. Anyone curious to learn how the world of economics runs can play and improve their knowledge. Traditional learning methods are more restricting.

Crime strategy games

There are games about learning something profound like economics then there are games about crime. Given the choice to either commit a crime or not, I would never willingly do something criminal. This goes for most normally functioning human beings. It is, therefore, shocking just how much we are drawn to criminal activity in the virtual space. The near-obsession with planning, facilitating and executing criminal activity in games is interesting. Think about the movies you really want to watch, the book you would choose to read or the jokes you laugh really hard at; human entertainment seems designed to allow us to experience the things that are forbidden.

The strategy is a key component in both professional and personal life. You may not even know it but you strategize about every action before you actually do it. The simplicity of thought like I will go left instead of right disappears when you begin to break it down to the whys and wherefores. In finance strategy is king. Failing to strategize means that your business has no direction and that you are likely to stall and fail altogether. Crime strategy games may be animalistic in nature as players prey on one another and put aside humanity in the virtual world but in truth, they train your brain to anticipate situations and have a game plan for every scenario that may arise. When playing crime strategy games I find that something remarkable happens; I unknowingly remove emotions from my actions. My moves and decisions are devoid of emotion and are as a result very cutthroat and efficient.

One of the principles you are taught in economics is to always have a strategic plan. A sound strategic plan will help you to do the following:

Prioritize activities and actions

Prioritizing simply means that resources will be allocated with the first things first mind frame. This ensures that all activities are coordinated properly and end goals are achieved in a timely fashion.

Have a clear direction for your investment

Every financial decision needs a precise and concise way forward. What do you want? How do you achieve it? Which steps are you taking and in which direction? What detour can you take if you fail? These are all very important questions. You must not be we go with wind type of business.

Promote accountability

Any initiative you come up with within your strategic plan should be a chance for you to perform. You must be accountable for timelines and goals that you set for yourself.

Have a decision-making framework

Your strategy should inform all of your financial decisions. It has to be the reference point against which you run your options before settling on a decision.

Boost commitment to the process

When all your business activities are aligned and a clear vision is evident you will stay committed to the process and see any project through to a successful end. Without a strategic plan, you would simply lack the same level of dedication.

If you think about crime strategy games you should think in terms of an opportunity to learn how to be smart and efficient. It is less about the actual crimes you commit in the game but about the decisions, you can make in a split second that either make or break you. Every business goes through some downtime at some point. The same goes for life, tragedies occur every day. What makes you stand out in a crowd is what you do after such an event. Do you quickly regroup, rebrand and hit the road again or do you stay down and give in to the pressure? In a crime strategy game, you will undoubtedly fail a level more than once and in order to win it in the next round, you use an entirely different strategy. Online gaming has become a lifestyle. It is no longer just about fun and games when you are bored out of your mind. Games are a learning tool for concepts that for a long time had remained inaccessible to the regular individual. As the information technology sector grows and continues to become robust, online gaming for education purposes is likely to become a major sector to watch out for.


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