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Kids and Money: Bite Club, an Online Game, Has Core Lessons

Vampires are hot. Many are quite attractive as that's for another blog. This one is about teaching kids to grow up comfortable handling money, and with that in mind I recently gave the new financial online game Bite Club a test run.

The game's creator is the nonprofit Doorways to Dreams Fund with support from the Financial Literacy Center. D2D is clearly hoping to capitalize on the Vampire trend, which has produced a fistful of best selling books, the blockbuster Twilight movies, the widely viewed cable series' True Blood and Vampire Diaries and a line of teen-targeted vampire debit cards.

Well, OK. The financial education effort could use some smart marketing. "One needs to think outside the box to find effective solutions to financial illiteracy," notes Dartmouth Economics Professor Annamaria Lusardi, in her blog.

Writing about Bite Club, she offers this:

"Bite Club offers players a simulated experience in which they face the real-world tension between managing debt payments and current spending needs on the one hand and saving for the long-term goal of retirement on the other...Bite Club players experience the natural tension that exists among debt service, spending, and long-term saving as the game unfolds."

The core challenges of the game include:

  • Running a club for vampires that offers patrons seating areas with tables and couches, a DJ booth and a dance floor.
  • Working the four stations of the club to satisfy a variety of vampire customers and earn revenue.
  • Making financial decisions related to paying off debt, managing current consumption, reinvesting in the club and saving for retirement.
  • Reacting to savings offers, which include retirement "open enrollment" and long-term savings promotions.

I like the game. It's engaging and fun. I'm going to ask my teen kids to give it a whirl. But I worry that like most games with serious money lessons this one may demand too much from casual players. They must tough through some big numbers and calculations and a fair amount of pop-up written instruction. The play itself should be more intuitive. No doubt some who try it will walk away. This isn't Angry Birds.

On the other hand, I'm not a gamer. It's possible that the 72% of Americans who play video games -- the highest rates are under age 35 -- will take to this kind of educational entertainment in a heartbeat. As Lusardi writes: "Video games are the fastest growing form of entertainment in the United States. We need to find ways to engage individuals in financial education. Learning through traditional venues like classrooms and the workplace are not feasible or desirable for all populations."

Photo courtesy Flickr user andy_home01
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