As many media outlets have reported, Vice President Joe Biden met with big players in a number of industries in hopes to curb gun violence. Representatives from mental health organizations, the Motion Picture Association of America and the National Rifle Association have all met with Biden, including many reps from the video game industry.
Violence in video games has been a “flavor of the month” in Congress since the early 90’s, and people remain divided as they always have been. Most regular players, like me, get more riled up about it than when we first tried to beat the Water Temple in Ocarina of Time. Those on the other side of the debate will not understand that last sentence.
Regardless of where you stand in the debate of how much of an influence video games have on kids, I figured now would be the best time to remind people that not all games involve killing and other heinous acts.
It’s true! Some video and board games have legitimately good messages and life lessons predominantly featured in the plot, and a section of those games even promote smart financial planning. So in light of recent events, I figured a reminder of five family-friendly games that celebrate financial planning will show the positive side of gaming.
Mario Party is Monopoly’s cousin that never graduated high school. In the game, players move through an interactive board collecting coins via spaces they land on and through mini-games at the end of each turn. Players need 20 coins to buy a star, strategically placed at a different place every time you play. To play it wisely and win, one must avoid superfluous spending on items that might further you in the short term and save up for the coveted stars. If you’ve played these games you might initially laugh at Mario Party being on this list, and it definitely has the least amount of financial lessons of all the games on this list. But if you think of it as subliminally tricking your kids into understanding the basics of a savings account, then it’s pretty cool.
The Game of Life (Board Game)
Never has a game based on the fundamentals of financial planning been so fun. I blame the spin wheel in the center of the board. At the start of the Game of Life, players move their cars (game pieces with space available for a growing family of pegs) to start their “life” out of high school or college. Start out of high school and you can’t get some of the best jobs available in the game which pay a much needed salary, but if you choose college you start the game with massive debt. There are plenty of other tough decisions like this throughout the Game of Life, with players ultimately competing to see who can retire (finish the game) with the most saved income. The game is a wonder because it teaches the importance, and financial burdens, of higher education, homeowners insurance, and other financial issues while still being really fun.
SimCity (Series, PC)
There’s a reason why SimCity was installed in the computer lab of my elementary school, and it’s because it requires players to build a functioning city, keep the citizens happy and balance the budget of their mini-kingdom. The first version came out in 1989, and each one that has followed has only become more complex with the player’s responsibilities. SimCity is the video game equivalent of tricking your kid into eating vegetables; by the time they realize a fun video game taught them financial planning, urban development and leadership, it’s too late.
Rollercoaster Tycoon (Series, PC)
If your kids do figure out SimCity is actually teaching good things and resent you for it, boot up Rollercoaster Tycoon for them. The game has an addictive rollercoaster building system that is so fun it could stand alone as its own game, but the real game involves successfully marketing and pricing your theme park to make a profit. From mailing out half-off coupons for your theme park, to charging a dollar to anyone who uses the bathroom, players must find a way to keep the revenue flowing if they want to build more coasters. It’s much more business oriented than any of the games previously mentioned, and it successfully balances work and pleasure in the mechanics to show it takes both of these elements to run a company.
Payday (Board Game)
Payday has very little game aspects hiding its true intentions: being a board game based off of the financial responsibilities of real life. Payday’s board is a calendar, and each month players get $325 for their salary. Players can take out loans, open a savings account, and pay bills while seizing business opportunities to ultimately finish the game with the most money saved up. Again, no veil or gimmick is used to hide that this is a competitive game made from adult realities. It doesn’t need it because the game is actually fun, unlike the stress of reaching payday in real life.
It’s easy to jump on the witch hunt against video games because the top selling ones usually have violent aspects to them. But any game, board or digital, will carry the weight of the context they are taught in. Rollercoaster Tycoon can be the game that taught your kid marketing or the game where you made faulty coasters on purpose to watch them crash into the hamburger stand. Payday could be the board game that explained interest loans to your children, or your kids could use the cards to start a paper cut war. Whatever your kids may play, it’s vital to teach them what you think the message is and reiterate to them which parts are fantasy and which parts carry weight in the real world.