Mobile device depicting gamificationThe proliferation of online and computer gaming has led to a surge in “gamification”—the application of game concepts to nongame fields. Health and education currently lead the trend, gamifying everything from tracking your diet to learning your ABCs. Financial education is not far behind. Some argue that recent technological advances present a golden opportunity to achieve unprecedented economies of scale and scope in reaching our ever-diversifying population with financial education through games. Games hold promise as teaching tools, but what are their limitations? Can a game impart the skills and concepts necessary to navigate the complex financial decisions of real life? And will anybody play?

Who's Playing

There is no doubt about it: Americans are playing games. From the first personal computers and game console systems of the 1970s, through the rapid growth of the Internet in the ‘90s and the migration to handheld devices in the last decade, games have played an important role in the lives of a growing number of people. And we’re not just talking about teenage boys. See the numbers.

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Games for Change

But can games really change behaviors? While there is a fair amount of research on gaming in general, the concept of using games to affect real-world outcomes over a long period of time, as yet, lacks solid data. NEFE commissioned a Harris/Nielsen survey to find out how many Americans use any kind of technology—including mobile apps, games and social media—to reach specific goals. To get a significant sample, we broadened the inquiry to include any goal (health, general education, financial, etc.).
See the survey results.


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What Makes a Game a Game?

Done successfully, financial education games clearly outline the actionable steps needed to empower players in the game, which also can empower them to make better decisions in real life. So, what makes a game a game? And how do you design a game that people might actually want to play?
See the 3 Keys to a Successful Game.


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Freedom to Fail

One of the most alluring aspects of gaming is the understanding that it’s “just a game,” which means that it is not only safe to fail, in many cases, failure is what keeps players coming back. When your avatar doesn’t make it to the goal or your Tetris pieces don’t fit, you start over. In her 2011 book, Reality is Broken, game researcher Jane McGonigal, Ph.D., argues that good games satisfy a longing for meaningful work and provide opportunities to face increasingly difficult challenges. The challenges of real life can leave people feeling powerless. A good game presents challenging situations within safe boundaries to explore and test one’s own abilities and a direct avenue through which to tackle problems. It’s not that people play games because they are lazy and escapist—in fact, quite the opposite—people play games because they want to feel empowered and meaningfully productive.

What Does This Mean for Financial Education

Financial education games can offer players a safe place to test out financial decisions and explore various outcomes. However, game designers must carefully consider their intended audience—players already know the consequences of making bad financial decisions in the real world. They either have experienced those consequences themselves, or they have seen others experience them. Done poorly, a financial education game could trigger feelings of shame or defensiveness. Or worse, could make the player feel condescended to. Done successfully, financial education games clearly outline the actionable steps needed to empower players in the game, which also can empower them to make better decisions in real life.

Download the PDF of the Summer 2015 NEFE Digest.

Graphic highlighting gaming statistics Graphic highlighting who uses technology to reach goals Graphic highlighting goals and keys to good games

Contacts

  • Paul Golden

    Media Relations Director

    Direct: 303-224-3514
    Cell: 303-918-3620
    pdg@nefe.org

  • Patricia (Pat) Seaman

    Senior Director of Marketing and Communications

    Direct: 303-224-3538
    pas@nefe.org

Contacts

  • Paul Golden

    Media Relations Director

    Direct: 303-224-3514
    Cell: 303-918-3620
    pdg@nefe.org

  • Patricia (Pat) Seaman

    Senior Director of Marketing and Communications

    Direct: 303-224-3538
    pas@nefe.org