Learning Economics from Video Games

Ok, so let’s all be honest economics classes can be insightful, but extremely boring. They are slow paced which makes almost anyone not want to pay attention. You don’t get to work with any real finances only spread sheets that you fill out with the information you found online and if you lucky you may learn to properly balance out your grocery shopping. The problem with learning this way is that it’s completely non-interactive and pretty much equal to playing an extremely lifeless game of D&D. Life skills are hard to teach without actual experience, but games offer a unique lesson in money and time management you can’t get many places else.

This article is here to explore the benefit of a few well-known game series on kids and adults alike. We are going to explore various gameplay mechanics that teach money management and inventory management We will also be looking at the driving forces behind goals and how to best apply yourself in getting them. We will also take a look at investments and good purchases vs. bad purchases all using popular video game series to demonstrate the process in a fun way.

The Basics of Spending

Let’s talk about the three types of spending you are most likely to encounter in your life. The first of these and always the most important is needs spending. Needs are defined as anything you need to meet your basic living needs. This falls under food, shelter, clothing, and water. This can also expand to job needs such a transportation and internet. These are often the things people spend the largest chunks of their monthly income on and the thing people will budget the rest of their purchases around.

Next, we have our want spending. Want spending is generally things like a new game or shoes to match a dress we don’t really need. This type of spending can be extremely healthy in moderation and is recommended for a healthy lifestyle. Many people even learn to budget through want spending in order to afford bigger purchases they have had their eyes on. With this type of spending it’s important to track sales and get the most bang for your buck in order to feel like your wants our worth their cost.

Lastly, there is investment spending. This is where people put money towards something they feel will increase in value. This usually is used as a way to make money in the future and come with no immediate rewards. This is generally done by patient people or parents who want to save something up for their kids. A lot of people invest in the stock market for this reason and save the stocks for a rainy day to sell.

Why Video Games?

Video games are an interesting medium that offers no risk rewards. This means that there is not an actual risk to spending money in the game as frustrating as it can be. Games also offer a feeling of time investment that can help players understand the value of their time and how to best use it efficiently to gain the most reward. This is a unique experience that can’t be replicated in the real world or at least not without playing pretend. Even with that though it’s still not as gratifying as buying a piece of armor you have had your eyes on for months.

This is because we live another life through games. We become detached from our reality and invested in the life surrounding our player character. We even make choices around what they do in role playing games in order to live out our real life fantasies or try a different way of life. This, in turn, makes a type of safe zone for us spending money in those realms while still feeling rewarded for spending it due to the player having to put in the time to make the money in the first place which simulates a job. While a lot of the time games are fun ask any player who has ever ground mini-games for money and you are sure to hear an agonizing tale of desperation mixed with greats amounts of determination.

Animal Crossing

Animal Crossing is an all ages friendly game full of cute chibi sized versions of animals who inhabit the town you just moved into. The game starts off with you coming into this new town almost completely broke with no furniture to your name. In most cases in the real world, this would easily lead you to the nearest tree to sleep under. Fear not though because the friendly Raccoon Tom Nook has found you and learned of your crisis! He even offers you a home to stay in as long as you’re willing to work for him at his store. To this, you agree and you quickly begin to learn how to manage a debt.

The deal is that you will pay off a small chunk of the loan before you stop working for Nook and then you will be on your own to make money. In most games, you would simply find something to grind at until you make the money in a few hours. Animal Crossing, however, works as a real time game with schedules. That means the game has a lot of limits to what you can do and when you can do it. For everything, you may be able to do in one hour the next it may be more difficult. This causes players to have to learn the schedules of the town they are living in and balance out their life around it.

Once players have an idea of scheduling they can begin to really make waves in money. Each day there will be a limited amount of things you can do for quick cash like digging up fossils. Of course, these things generally give you a choice between using them to fill your pockets or fill up the local museum for your visitors to look through. You will also have to decide whether you want to spend your money towards upgrading your house or purchasing that furniture set you’ve been eyeing. Make your choices wisely though because shops in animal crossing randomly change their stock each day. While you won’t have repercussions for not paying your debt or buying furniture. The way you grow your house and the town expands is through spending money. This means there has to be a cash flow in the game for you to have a better quality of life.

Harvest Moon

My other favorite example for life management lesson comes from the Harvest Moon series. This series is a farming simulation game that focuses on your growing your own homestead and building relations with the towns folks around you. This begins generally when you inherit a farm or a plot of land from a relative. The farm is generally fun down at the start of the game meaning you will have to fix it up in order to get any real profit out of it. You generally will be given your basic farming tools and some seeds to start with. Most players end up foraging the landscape while taking care of their starter crops for the first part of the game. While Animal Crossing focused on debt management this game focuses on saving up and investing money for rewards.

This is done by picking a path to go along such a raising animals, mining, or growing crops. Each of these dishes out quite a bit of money, but you will first have to put in money to reap the rewards. On top of that this game features a stamina system that limits how much you can do in a day. You can increase this by making more effective tools and buying food to give you energy back throughout the game. If you have animals you will also have to figure out how to budget in things like their food and prepare for days the stores will be shut down so they don’t get sick from hunger. You will also find that your house is rather small at first and lacks a kitchen for making food. In order to spend less money on buying food, you will have to choose to invest in a house upgrade to have cooking utensils. You also will have a limited number of spaces in your inventory causing you to pick which items you need most for the day instead of dragging around things you won’t really need.

The game also features a supply and demand system. To get certain shops or residents in your town you will have to export certain goods. This means to get a doctor’s office to open up you will have to export a steady supply of herbs he can use to successfully operate his practice. While generally you only have to do this once some Harvest Moon games will have villagers move away for not exporting supplies ever so often and forgetting to interact with them. There is also a huge social role that plays into the games. In order to get better deals, you will need to make friends with the shop owners or people who specialize in the field you’re interested in. Much like real life you have to invest your time into people in order to gain the rewards of friendship.

Applying These Skills

To apply these skills in real life simply play the games for an extended amount of time. Generally, we will associate the skills we learn in games to real life situations and use this to better determine the spending of our money. In some cases, we can even use the games to play out mock situations that may be going on in real life like balancing our funds for the month. Be sure to get creative and keep checklists both in the game and real life for the best money management results.

Jessica has been working with the gaming industry for about two years now. She enjoys playing quirky Japanese games and learning about the newest trivia in the industry. When not working with games you may find her chilling with her naked cat Prince Noko... he's pretty cool we guess.