Did you know the video game industry is larger than both the music and movie industries combined?! It makes sense once you consider that 66 percent of Americans—more than 215 million people of all ages and backgrounds—play video games regularly, according to the Entertainment Software Association.
With more Americans playing video games, the benefits of playing video games are also increasingly being recognized, such as:
- Bringing joy through play (93 percent)
- Providing mental stimulation (91 percent)
- Providing stress relief (89 percent)
- Helping build skills like problem-solving, conflict resolution, and leadership (90 percent)
- Bringing together different types of people (88 percent)
- Help introduce you to new friends and relationships (83 percent)
- 46 percent reported meeting a good friend, spouse, or significant other through video games
- Helps families stay connected to one another (61 percent)
- 77 percent of parents regularly play video games with their children
Since 71 percent of children under 18 in the U.S. play video games, some parents wonder if video games can help them teach their children financial literacy skills.
Can Video Games Really Help Kids Learn About Money?
According to Tom Martin, a financial planner and father of two children, ages 13 and 15, the answer is yes. As Martin explained to CNET, many video games contain the building blocks of basic financial concepts, allowing parents to use these games as a starting block to introduce real-life money lessons to their kids.
“They understand how the economics works within the game, but they don’t understand how it might relate to or how it might differ from reality,” Martin said. “If I can introduce some real-life elements to their game and make those kinds of connections, then I feel that I should share them.”
Take the game Animal Crossing: New Horizons as an example. The premise of the game is that you move to a deserted island and have to buy a house, get a mortgage, and make money to pay off the mortgage. Unlike real life, the game doesn’t require you to pay back your mortgage within a certain time frame, and you don’t owe any interest while paying back your home loan. However, you can invest in a stock market of sorts, although instead of stocks, you invest in turnips, which have fluctuating prices throughout the week.
When Martin asked his kids what the turnips were for in the game, they replied, “We’re making money on this island now.”, which piqued Martin’s interest. “There’s an income component and personal finance to learn here.”
Martin says he has been able to introduce real-life money lessons to his kids based on conversations around concepts introduced in Animal Crossing. For example, he had a conversation with his kids that in the real world, mortgages come with an interest rate, unlike the game, but savings accounts do earn you interest like they do in the game.
While the thought of working to pay off a mortgage in a video game may sound dreadful to some, Douglas Gentile, a psychology professor at Iowa State University, says the game also teaches players how to build a sense of community and gain empathy for the other characters who ask for help.
“We’ve done studies in several different countries that when kids play pro-social games, they gain empathy, and that leads to more helpful and cooperative behavior,” Gentile said.
While some parents like Martin see the educational benefits and opportunities of some video games, a recent study indicated that most parents — a whopping 86 percent of those surveyed — think teens spend too much time playing video games.
Experts say those parents are missing an opportunity to teach their kids in a new way and on a playing field their kids are already excited about. In fact, they say video games offer a unique way to lay an educational foundation for real-life financial literacy.
Gamification of Real-Life Money Lessons
Pamela Rutledge is the director of the Media Psychology Research Center and psychology professor at Fielding Graduate University in Santa Barbara, California. She says it’s not just the game content that helps children learn real-life lessons, it’s the processes they go through that help build skills as well.
“I have a daughter who’s just like a master negotiator in Roblox,” Rutledge said. “She trades unicorns and rare things in Roblox, and I don’t even understand half of what she’s doing, but she spends a lot of time developing a strategy to negotiate, which is a pretty important life skill when it comes right down to it.”
“Any time they can get experience with concepts of value, trading, saving and all of those things,” Rutledge said, “even if it’s a sort of byproduct of whatever activity they’re doing, it’s an important lesson.”
Even if your children are not playing video games with economic lessons tied in, video games can be an effective tool to help teach children about money.
Nabeel Ahmad is a father of two, co-founder of Changeforce.ai, has a doctorate in learning technologies, and teaches at Columbia University in New York. Ahmad says he doesn’t rely on video game content to teach his kids financial literacy lessons – instead, he uses the act of purchasing the video games themselves, along with in-game purchases and add-ons, to teach his kids about money.
Ahmad says his kids really enjoy the game Fortnite, so he has taught them how their real money is transferred from their bank accounts and converted to V-Bucks, the in-game currency for Fortnite. He even explained to his kids the importance of prioritizing in-game currency for what they need versus what they want and the importance of saving up for something they want if they don’t have enough V-Bucks for it at the moment.
“To me, that was important for them to visualize, so they can see the actual relationship between where your actual money was and how we use a medium like a credit card to then purchase something in a virtual game, instead of thinking that it’s like magic money,” Ahmad said.
Will Myers, a personal finance influencer, says his children are interested in Pokemon trading cards, so he uses those cards to teach his kids about money and interest.
“In one moment my kids are playing and having fun, and I’m like, ‘Can I borrow your Pokemon card?’ and they’re like, ‘No way,'” Myers said.
“I tell them that if they just let me borrow a Pokemon card for one day, I will give them a brand-new pack of Pokemon cards the next day,” Myers said. “And they’re like, ‘Wait a minute, what?’ And so that’s teaching the basis of interest.”
When it comes to video games, Myers uses his children’s interest in a specific game to teach them about business. For example, if his kids are interested in Nintendo or Fortnite, they’ll research the history of the company, learn how it started, whether it’s publicly traded or not. Myers says his goal is to get his children to associate money with fun instead of negative emotions.
While most of the time we hear about how video games have a negative psychological effect on players, Gentile says children who play video games are often learning helpful skills without realizing it, which has a positive psychological effect. Specifically, Gentile noted that video games provided children with multiple pathways for learning where they are able to practice pro-social skills, master in-gamer currencies, and solve puzzles using critical thinking skills.
“Kids are natural learners and games are natural teachers,” Gentile said. “Ultimately, your grandmother was a great neuroscientist. She told you practice makes perfect. She was right.”
Rutledge agrees. “If you think of all the things that people do when they’re playing, they’re interactive,” she said. “They’re making choices and getting feedback. Learning theory says that the ability to try things and get feedback allows you to learn much better than not getting instant feedback.”
While game-based learning is still a hot topic, specifically in education, researchers and teachers are finding that games help children have fun while they’re learning, which in turn makes them feel less like they’re learning and more like they are having fun, so they pay attention for a longer duration, says Kelsey Brothers, a teacher at the JCC Greater Boston Early Learning Center.
It makes sense if you think about it.
“Kids have been sitting at school all day … If you try to sit down with your child and teach them a lesson or talk to them about money, by the time you reach them, their brain is checked out, naturally,” said Allison Baggerly, who was a teacher before starting her own personal finance podcast, The Inspired Budget.
“Teaching kids through games — you’re going to have a higher engagement than if you were sitting at a dinner table or in a classroom just lecturing,” Baggerly said. ” Games allow you to have a more natural conversation when things come up … But the kids might not realize that that’s where the teaching is.”
18 Video Games that Help Improve Your Financial Literacy
1. The Sims
The Sims is a video game in which players are responsible for the daily activities of one or more virtual people known as “Sims” living in a suburban household near a fictional city. Players can customize their Sims and pursue a career and relationships, but they have to use their in-game income to pay bills, find a job, exercise, purchase home furnishings, renovate their living space, buy clothing, food, and more. They are also responsible for daily hygiene. Not prioritizing certain aspects of daily life such as obtaining a job, paying bills, daily hygiene, or eating food, comes with consequences in the game, just as they would in real life.
2. House Flipper
If you find yourself watching a lot of HGTV or home renovation-type shows, you may be interested in the game House Flipper. In this game, just like the real world, players have a chance to buy, repair, and sell rundown houses for a profit. This game can teach players the potential profits that come with real estate investments, sweat equity, and the importance of doing your research before buying a property, no matter how good a deal sounds.
3. Animal Crossing: New Horizons
In Animal Crossing: New Horizons, players travel from their homes to a deserted island, where they start the game living in a tent. If you want to buy a home, which most players do, you’re given a mortgage. In order to pay off your home loan, you need to generate in-game currency by performing various tasks around the island or selling items. Unlike real life, the game doesn’t require your mortgage to be paid off within a specific time frame, nor do you incur interest. But the game almost always has players incurring some kind of debt they need to pay off.
Another way players can make money in this game is through the “Stalk” Market. Once a week, players can buy turnips at a fixed price, and throughout the week, the price of turnips fluctuates, meaning players may be able to sell their turnips for a profit, but there’s also a chance you could lose money. Thinking you can just hold on to your turnips week after week until you are guaranteed a profit? Think again – the turnips rot after a week, forcing players to take a gamble on the best time to sell.
4. FIFA, EA Sports FC
FIFA, now known as EA Sports FC, is a soccer-stimulation video game in which players compete in soccer games with the goal of becoming World Cup champions. In some modes of the game, players can work as a team’s manager as well, in which they are responsible for managing the team’s financial budget, including player contracts. If your budget is low, you may not be able to sign a high-profile player, forcing you to find a young player who has the potential to become a global superstar.
5. Capitalism Lab
This is a business simulation game that allows players to run a corporation and expand their business into various industries such as agriculture, retail, manufacturing, mining, IT, banking, and software. Essentially you create and control the business empire of your dreams. Players can also play the stock market in this game, where they can potentially take over competitors and increase their personal net worth.
6. The Legend of Zelda
In this action-adventure game, players are on a quest to save a magical land from an evil warlord turned demon king. In order to save the kingdom, players have to avoid enemies while solving puzzles or exploring hidden areas. Although it may not seem obvious, this game teaches players about gambling, budgeting, and spending your money wisely, as various items are required to maintain your player’s health as well as complete your quest.
Civilization is a strategy game in which players are tasked with leading an entire human civilization over the course of several millennia by controlling various areas of life, including urban development, exploration, government, trade, research, and the military. Players can conquest and settle other areas of the game’s world and make decisions regarding tax rates, research priorities, and even whether to enter into a diplomatic alliance or declare war.
8. Age of Empires
Similar to Civilization, Age of Empires is a strategy game in which players choose one of 13 civilizations from Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. Before you can advance your empire, players must ensure that the backbone of their empire, their villages, are successful. This entails gathering resources, constructing and repairing buildings, and even fighting if necessary. To advance your society, players have to spend resources. Resources are also important when it comes to the economy of your empire.
9. NBA 2K
For the sports enthusiast, another game that combines sports with money lessons is NBA 2K, a basketball simulation game that allows players to not just to play basketball but to manage a National Basketball Association team. Essentially this game allows players to learn financial lessons by managing a team’s finances – they’ll have to let some players go in order to afford others and make other real-life tough financial decisions.
10. Stardew Valley
This game begins with players inheriting their grandfather’s old farm plot in Stardew Valley. While you start out with a few hand-me-down tools and some money, in order to turn the overgrown fields into a lively and bountiful farm will require players to upgrade their tools and earn more coins. By investing in fertilizers and using the land and equipment efficiently, players can learn money management skills. Plus, with the ability to raise animals, go on dates, and even decorate your home, there are other budgeting and wants vs. needs financial lessons embedded in this game.
11. Kerbal Space Program
Explore a galaxy far, far away in this game that teaches money lessons like budgeting. In Kerbal Space Program, players are tasked with taking charge of the space program for the alien race known as the Kerbals. In the game, players will launch their crew into orbit to explore moons and planets in the Kerbol solar system, where they will oversee every aspect of the space program, including the construction of bases and space stations, funding, upgrades, and more. In one mode of the game, there’s a resource-accumulation strategy where players are tasked with mining for precious metals and other resources so they can either barter for different resources or build spaceships.
12. Slime Rancher
Another space-inspired game. In Slime Rancher, players start out on a planet a thousand light years away from Earth with a basic plot of land. The game is about rebuilding your own farm by completing daily tasks that increase in difficulty as you level up during the game. The game encourages players to take the money earned from these small jobs and invest it into better equipment and expand their plot of land to meet new orders better. Not only does this game encourage players to invest in their future, but the game has rare resources and decorations hidden along the way to encourage players not to always chase profits, but to stop and have fun every once in a while too.
13. Learning Coins: Break the Bank
For young ones who are just learning the value of money, this game has players break open piggy banks to reveal dollars and coins of various monetary values. Players then must correctly assign the correct value to each dollar and coin by selecting the bills or coins and dragging the item to the correct value box below.
14. Money Bingo
If you enjoy BINGO, you may enjoy this gamified money version of the classic game that asks players to find the correct currency on their BINGO card by selecting the correct amount on the card based on the combined worth of coins, bills or both displayed on the screen. By answering correctly, you’ll get a BINGO Bug on your card. Once you collect enough BINGO Bugs to vertically or horizontally, you get a BINGO and win.
15. Dolphin Feed
In this game geared toward younger players, the goal is to cross the finish line before the other players by correctly answering money-related questions. Players are shown various images of U.S. coins, including quarters, dimes, nickels, and pennies, and must correctly answer how much the combined coins are worth in order to progress toward the finish line.
16. Lights, Camera, Budget
This game is geared toward middle school and high school students who have an interest in Hollywood and the movie-making business. As a producer, players are asked to not only handle celebrity meltdowns, location nightmares, and media mishaps, you’re also responsible for the finances of the movie. In the game, players are asked to make choices based on their costs and benefits. For example, you may have paid more to cast a perfectly trained poodle, but the fans loved her so much that they bought tons of tickets, which led to box office profits. To help you throughout the game, players can select an advisor, a superstar movie director, to help them manage the budget and make other financial decisions.
17. Hot Shot Business
While Capitalism Lab lets you run your own business empire, Hot Shot Business offers players a chance to dip their toes in the entrepreneurship pool, where they have the chance to become a hot shot business owner. From a skate shop and comic book store to a pet spa business, this game is filled with financial lessons that may inspire future entrepreneurs.
18. Hit the Road
In this game, you and three friends are taking a cross-country road trip to go skiing in Colorado. Like on any good road trip, you’ll stop at some popular landmarks along the way. But your job is to ensure that you and your friends are fed, your car is filled with gas, and you avoid other mishaps as best you can by stocking up on medicine and spare tires, for example. You’ll also need to ensure you have at least $500 in your checking account by the time you reach your final destination, the Rocky Mountains, which can be tricky, given you start out the game with a $500 loan. Payments are automatically withdrawn from your checking account. Players earn money by taking on odd jobs at every location and are tempted to purchase souvenirs and go sightseeing, which also costs money.
Have you played video games to improve your financial literacy? What are your favorite games to play? Share with us in the comments below!