Personal finance is rarely fun and games for people trying to make ends meet, but a new initiative for low-income consumers aims to teach valuable financial lessons through computer games.
The American nonprofit, Doorway to Dreams (D2D) Fund, has created five games to help build understanding about important financial milestones, such as retirement planning and saving for college.
“Adults of all ages are woefully poorly educated about financial matters,” said Peter Tufano, chairman of D2D Fund, who is also dean and professor of finance at Saїd Business School at the University of Oxford in England.
“It is clear that traditional approaches to educating people about finances are not working well enough to meet our needs and that new thinking is required to address this pressing problem.”
This new thinking includes the use of popular gaming motifs, such as celebrities, vampires and farms, to teach serious lessons in finance. In "Bite Club," for example, vampires help promote smart retirement planning.
While many of D2D's games have been around for a while (it launched some back in 2008) it has now teamed up with employers and other partners to market and distribute these games to their intended low-to-moderate-income audiences.
For instance, D2D's game “Bite Club” has been specifically tailored to employees of the office supply company, Staples. Throughout the game, users have opportunities to access their real-world retirement savings plans, benefits and health savings accounts, and make smart changes based on their newly earned financial wisdom.
In an effort to educate young enlisted personnel and their families, D2D also recently ran a successful campaign on a U.S. military base. According to participants, the “Celebrity Calamity” game was not only entertaining, but also effective in drilling smart financial practices into players' minds.
“The beauty of the games is that users find them fun and stress relieving, and positively enjoy playing them,” says Tufano. “For that reason, [users] will invest sufficient time in the game to build their financial skills and confidence.
"We see a significant improvement in individuals’ financial skills, but also in their self-belief in their capacity to take financial decisions in the real world. And this is the big challenge, to convert their learning into sustained behavioral change.”
D2D’s gaming platform has also been successful in reaching the college set. Games marketed toward students offer opportunities for users to take real-world control of their finances by purchasing savings bonds, ordering free credit reports and requesting more information on financial topics.
According to Trufano, “financial entertainment” is the future in educating today’s earners on how to manage their money. But the nonprofit still has a ways to go in making virtual lessons a part of users’ day-to-day financial transactions.
“We are working to refine the games further to maximize their effectiveness and achieve long-term, real-world financial change, such as increased savings, reduced debt, better financial planning, informed investing and increased income,” Trufano said.