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1. What is the benefit of games in financial education?

Games are familiar from other contexts as pastimes, and therefore it is easy to motivate people to play them. It is typical of games that they involve goal-oriented activity according to given rules. For example, in chess the goal is to checkmate the opponent’s king. In the game, the players are given certain resources (chess pieces) and rules on how the pieces may be moved. Within the resources provided, each player tries to win the other’s pieces tactically by moving them correctly. In the game, making some move means that you lose the opportunity to make some other move. This is where opportunity cost comes into play.

Games can help the players improve their understanding of abstract topics and concepts. In games, the players can transfer knowledge from theory into practice and break things down into smaller modules. Playing is a fun and exciting way to teach. Learning takes place almost as a by-product of interacting with others when playing. 

Games have clear similarities with how in economics we think about the structure of the economy. According to one definition of economics, choices are made in an economy in a situation of scarce resources. Each actor seeks, with the resources provided, to make the best possible choices from their own perspective within institutional constraints. It is good to remember, however, that in financial games it is worth focusing on some limited and relatively simple theme, because the economy is a multidimensional entity.

2. Games in financial education: examples

DIGITAL GAMES FOR FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT

Digital games combine elements from different kinds of games. The advantage of digital games is that they can also be played alone (“against the machine”). They require a device to play the games on and usually also an internet connection. There are very different types of digital games. Only free games related to managing personal finances are presented here.

Moneymaster is a narrative digital role-playing game in which a person makes decisions in different financial management situations and receives feedback on their decisions. The game is aimed at 13–17-year-olds. The total duration of the game is around 45–60 minutes, but it can also be played in parts. The player who does best in the game is the one who masters the module in financial affairs and accumulates experience in addition to increasing their cash balance. To support the game, lesson materials containing whole ready-made lesson modules have been prepared for the teacher. There are also Finnish and Swedish versions of the game. The Moneymaster mobile game has been implemented by Nordea, the Finnish Foundation for Share Promotion, and Economy and Youth (TAT). Moneymaster Junior, for pupils in 4th–5th grades, was published in autumn 2021.

TalousTandem is a finance game developed by the University of Vaasa that simulates the life of an undergraduate student. In the game, the player makes choices that affect their financial situation, academic success, social relationships and happiness. When all of these values remain at a certain level, the student completes three years of undergraduate study. The game is particularly suitable for students at the early stage of their studies and those planning university studies.

Pengalabbet (MoneyLab) is a Swedish game, developed by the Economy Museum (Ekonomiska Museet) and the Financial Supervisory Authority (Finansinspektionen), in which players practice living on a certain monthly salary. The game allows players to test the adequacy of the monthly salaries of different occupations in relation to living expenses. Players learn to understand that different incomes result in different financial circumstances and opportunities to consume. The game provides lessons in making choices with limited resources. When playing, players have to consider what everyday expenses consist of and what they cost. Pengalabbet is designed for primary school pupils in grades 4–6, but it is also suitable for older children.

The site Arcada Games of Next Generation Personal Finance has lots of good, student-focused financial education games about financing studies, budgeting and investing. They relate specifically to US contexts, but are innovatively designed and their principles are more widely applicable. For example, the game Shady Sam, in which a shady loan shark tries to maximise his returns, is instructive in different contexts.

GAMIFIED LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS

Alongside games, and particularly in connection with education, one often hears of the term gamification, meaning the use of mechanisms familiar from games, such as competitions, automated feedback, levels, medals or leaderboards. These are often related to learning modules.

The Zaldo learning environment and materials are intended particularly for the financial education of 4th–6th graders (Mini-Zaldo) and 7th–9th graders. Zaldo for the older pupils has four modules, dealing with income and expenditure, buying and paying, saving and investing, and insurance and risk management. There is also a test that players can take after going through the material.

Oma Onni is an online learning environment that teaches young people how to manage their personal finances. The learning environment is designed for lower secondary school 9th graders. The subject areas of the learning material are working life, daily financial matters and online shopping, saving and investing, borrowing, insurance, entrepreneurship and taxation. The learning material for each subject area consists of short theory sections and a glossary plus online games and assignments. The program is developed by the students of SEDU, the Seinäjoki Joint Municipal Authority for Education. The material can be used in social studies lessons, but it is suitable for independent study online.

Financial Fitness for Life is a US website providing instructional materials for personal finance decision-making in US contexts for use with students from kindergarten to grade 12. The content of the materials includes earning income, spending, managing money, saving, investing and borrowing. Materials are available for both students and teachers. All lessons are based on real-world concepts that reinforce learning through practice.

ROLE-PLAYING GAMES

In a role-playing game, a person assumes a role other than what they have in normal life or how they would otherwise act. Usually in role-playing games, people interact with others. Role-playing games can be a safe way to practice new situations, such as becoming acquainted with working life or making important financial decisions. Role-playing games may follow some clear script or be freer in format. Role-playing games can be digital and non-digital (analogue).

Yrityskylä Alakoulu  (Me and My City, Primary School) is a learning concept covering society, the economy and working life. In terms of economics, it addresses basic financial concepts, circulation of money, responsible consumption and planning personal spending. The concept includes teacher training, Yrityskylä lessons and a school day in a miniature society. Yrityskylä Alakoulu operates in nine different localities. Yrityskylä is part of the Economy and Youth (TAT).

JA BizTown and JA Finance Park is a financial literacy laboratory developed by Junior Achievement in the United States. The learning environments are reality-based. JA BizTown is for students in 4th–6th grades and JA Finance Park for lower and upper secondary school students.

BUSINESS SIMULATIONS

Business simulations are also a kind of role-playing game, but they have a very precisely defined context: achieving certain activities (such as maximising returns or a share price) in interaction with others. Business simulations are often used, for example, in university or other tertiary education. An exception to this is the lower secondary school-level Yrityskylä Yläkoulu.

In the game Yrityskylä Yläkoulu (Me and My City, Lower Secondary School), 9th-grade students compete in managing companies on the global markets. The package consists of teacher training, five Yrityskylä lessons, a game situation in a games arena and a final reflection. In economics, the game addresses the basic principles of business, companies’ activities in an international operating environment, and the importance of responsibility in business.

STOCK MARKET GAMES

Investing in the stock market already in itself offers gamified elements. It combines both the investor’s own choices and a random element. It is easy to make a gamified digital version of this so that players can invest without financial risk in a virtual portfolio whose value follows the real value of the shares. Mutual competition is then possible, where a player or a team of players can compete against other players. The team with the most valuable portfolio after a certain period of time is the winner. Playing stock market games can be criticised on the grounds that it encourages risk-taking in the short term in a way that may not be optimal from the standpoint of long-term investment behaviour. Even so, such games are widely used in financial education, particularly in the United States, and they have also been found to have a positive impact on financial literacy.

BOARD GAMES

Many board games can also be used in financial education. Even in simple board games, such as African Star, player can learn to count with money, for example. In more complex games, players can learn about, among other things, managing and diversifying risk. Board games are also good in that students can be assigned to design them.

In the board game Riittääkö rahat? (Is there enough money?), the aim is to understand the order of importance of everyday bills and expenses and their significance for keeping one’s personal finances in balance. The game was designed by the Guarantee Foundation (Takuusäätiö) and students of Diakonia University of Applied Sciences.

Välttämätön, tarpeellinen, turha (Essential, necessary, unnecessary), a card game published by the Martha organisation (Marttaliitto) and the Guarantee Foundation, can be used to talk about money matters with young people. The aim of the game is to stimulate ideas about what kind of things or consumer goods we consider to be most important in life and what, in turn, we could do without. The game is available in board, mobile and digital versions.

Circula is a circular economy and entrepreneurship game that familiarises the players with the circular economy through teamwork. The game provides the players with models for responsible business and a sustainable future. It teaches the players to evaluate their own and others’ strengths. The game is suitable for learners of different levels from 15-year-olds to adults. The game can be used in general or vocational education and in universities of applied sciences. The game was developed by SYKLI Environmental School of Finland, Junior Achievement Finland, Savo Consortium for Education, and Omnia, the Joint Authority of Education in the Espoo Region.

In the game Payday, the players have to try and make good purchases and sell them for a profit. The most important aspect of the game is to record expenses precisely and hold on to one’s money. The player who manages to accumulate the most money wins. The game is for ages 8 years and over.

In Monopoly, the players buy and sell real estate. The goal of the game is, through as sensible investments as possible, to drive the other players into bankruptcy.

In the game Paris Connection, players build rail networks from Paris to the rest of France. The objective of the game is to have at the end of the game the best possible rail sections of the most valuable companies.  

ESCAPE ROOM GAMES

Escape room games are a form of adventure game in which the players (usually a group) have to discover clues, solve puzzles and accomplish tasks in order to move forward or escape the site of the game. The original escape room games were in physical spaces from which players had to escape. A simplified version of this is based on opening a lock; games like this have been used a lot in financial education. In these, by accomplishing tasks the players receive a numeric code with which they can open a lock (for example, on a briefcase). With the COVID pandemic, escape room games have moved online. Escape room games and the applications are well suited to educational use because they involve a variety of puzzles. In Finland, escape room games have been used in financial education by, among others, OP Group.

USE OF HIT GAMES IN FINANCIAL EDUCATION

Sometimes games can be used in such a way that instead of students having to learn a completely new game, they find elements in a hit game they are already familiar with and which expose them to financial concepts.

In Sim City, the players act as the mayor of the city. They are responsible for urban planning: for zoning of city districts into residential, business and industrial areas. The mayor is also responsible for building the road network and railways, selecting the locations of schools, libraries, hospitals and police stations, and managing taxes, other revenue and expenditure. The players cannot always immediately see the impact of the choices they make. The game has no specific objective, but the players can aim for the largest possible population or as much money as possible.

Minecraft, a construction and survival game, can be used in teaching economics. In the game, a three-dimensional world is built using cubes. A good example of using Minecraft in financial education is Learning Economics with Minecraft: Productive Resources.

In World of Warcraft, most of the gameplay is done by completing quests, which the players receive from the game’s non-player characters (NPCs). Completion of quests is often rewarded with money or items, for example. In addition, players are rewarded with experience points for nearly all quests. A large proportion of quests are so-called quest chains in which a new quest continues the story presented in a completed quest. Quests may include collecting various items and substances, searching for places, talking to a certain person, visiting a certain place or killing certain enemies.

3. Measuring the impact of games: examples

There follows a review of studies examining the impact of games or gamified learning environments on financial education. The evidence presented in the studies suggests that games have beneficial effects on financial education and on financial knowledge in particular. In some studies, games have been found to have an impact on financial behaviour, while others have not.

A study by Kalmi and Rahko addressed the use of games and gamification in lower secondary schools and their impact on learning. The study focused on three different forms of gamification in financial education. These were the Me and My City Lower Secondary School, the Money Flow Challenge and the Oma Onni learning environment. The study compared their use in lower secondary school education compared with control schools which did not participate in any corresponding activities. The focus was on 9th-grade instruction, when students take a financial literacy course in social studies.

The study by Kalmi and Rahko found a statistically significant association with the accumulation of financial knowledge when gamified learning methods are used.  Me and My City had the largest impact. This would suggest that gamified teaching promotes the learning of financial topics. On the other hand, no impact on behaviour was observed.

Duzhak, Hoff and Lopus examined the effects on learning of a federal reserve (central bank) game created by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. The objective of the game is to keep inflation and unemployment low by adjusting the federal funds rate. The authors examined learning both by studying game analytics and by comparing learning of macroeconomic concepts with a control group that did not play games. In both ways, the review found that central bank games were significantly associated with learning. See Chair the Fed: Insights from game usage data and The Effects of the Chair the Fed Simulation on High School Students’ Knowledge.

Batty et al. studied the effects of two gamified learning environments, Financial Fitness for Life and My Classroom Economy, on financial learning in primary schools. Financial Fitness for Life is a more formal learning module, while My Classroom Economy is integrated with general activities in the classroom. Pupils receive for their accomplishments virtual “bonuses” or “fines” and, among other things, pay rent for their work equipment and facilities. In both cases, the researchers found the use of the gamified environment to have positive effects on learning compared with situations in which the learning environment was not in use. See Experimental Evidence on the Effects of Financial Education on Elementary School Students’ Knowledge, Behavior, and Attitudes and an Open access parallel copy: Experimental Evidence on the Effects of Financial Education on Elementary School Students' Knowledge, Behavior, and Attitudes.

Harter and Harter studied the effects of a stock market game on students’ financial literacy. Their results showed that students who played the stock market game improved their financial literacy more than those students who used standard teaching methods. See Is financial literacy improved by participating in a stock market game?

Kalmi studied the Oma Onni learning environment with the aid of initial and final surveys in lower secondary schools in Ostrobothnia and Southern Ostrobothnia. According to the research, students who participated in the Oma Onni programme had better knowledge skills after the lower secondary school financial literacy course than students in a control group. On the other hand, the Oma Onni programme was not found to have an effect on financial behaviour. See The Effects of Financial Education: Evidence from Finnish Lower Secondary Schools.

An article by Maynard et al. looked at digital games and their use in financial education. In addition to the study identifying statistically significant associations, the authors also presented a theory as to what the impact of games is based on. They also presented a model on how games stimulate the interest of users and increase positive experiences of personal financial skills, which facilitates the introduction of good operating models. The article outlines how this model can be utilised in the practical design of financial games. See Can games build financial capability?

Jesse Räsänen completed a master’s thesis for the University of Vaasa on the associations between World of Warcraft (WoW) and financial education. The thesis was based on the idea that WoW develops similar problem-solving skills as are needed to solve financial issues. The study found that the financial literacy of individuals who played the game frequently was somewhat better than that of a control group. These differences were not statistically significant, however. See Kilpailullisten reaaliaikastrategiapelien vaikutus taloudelliseen lukutaitoon: Tapaus StarCraft II (The impact of competitive real-time strategy games on financial literacy: Case StarCraft II).

Charlotta Hilli examined the introduction of the virtual simulation game Second Life in the upper secondary school teaching of financial topics in social studies. In her research, she found that in order to produce the best results, the use of games requires the input of a person (teacher) who actively questions and challenges the students. See Virtuella simuleringar som metod i ekonomisk kunskap (Virtual simulations as a method in economic knowledge).

4. Tips for teachers

Making full use of the games requires effort and planning on the part of teachers. Games can provide fun variation to lessons. At their best, however, games may allow students to learn a lot about the topics being addressed. The following tips will be of assistance in teaching:

  • Get to know the game by playing it yourself first. Try to understand the idea of the game. Clarify for yourself the kind of learning goals that can be furthered with the aid of the game. If possible, test the game in advance, perhaps with your close associates.
  • After playing the game, conduct a reflection session with the students in which you can go through the events of the game. What kind of strategies were associated with success in the game? How did a concept learned in the game relate to some financial education topic previously discussed? Learning takes place without reflection, of course, but reflection makes a big contribution to promoting learning.
  • You can also design games yourself or involve students in designing games. This may consist of cross-curricular collaboration involving, for example, learning digital skills or handicrafts (visual arts, handicrafts). A number of simple digital platforms on which games can be created are presented below. Traditional board or card games can be relatively simple to implement.

Digital platforms on which it is possible to practice creating games:

This website has been implemented in collaboration with Panu Kalmi, Professor of Economics at the University of Vaasa.