A lot of articles that cover positive sides of gaming tend to focus on the question “what kind of skills can children learn by playing games”? The answers are usually things like cognitive skills, improved reaction time, coding and such.
But I believe a more important question would be: what are some concrete things that people have actually learned from gaming?
Last time I talked about how games can help us experience the life of the rich. I’m going to continue with the theme of money.
But this time I want to cover something that I feel is so essential, I believe every parent should have their child play games just so they learn it.
Let’s learn how to save money and handle it wisely!
Buying stuff in real life
Businesses want you to buy stuff. That’s logical. They wouldn’t exist if they didn’t turn profit or at least break even.
In my youth (which wasn’t all that long ago, I like to think) it was normal to always have physical money on me. If I wanted to buy a Turtles toy, I’d go and give enough money to the clerk in exchange for it.
Now all that money is mostly digital and sitting in our credit cards.
Every major store I know allows you to pay in installments. “Pay only fraction of the price now! It only costs 100 instead of 2000!” That kind of marketing hits you right in the “math shutdown” part of your brain.
If you don’t have the money, you can get a new credit card right there on the counter. Or even take a loan. Anything to make sure that you don’t leave the store without making that purchase.
Then there’s all the digital transactions happening all the time in various webshops. Biggest webshops like Amazon make sure that buying is as easy and quick as possible.
Buying stuff in games
There are few games that allow you to actually take loans. Mostly these are simulation games like Theme Hospital and SimCity.
But for most games, what happens if you don’t have the money? Take any RPG for example. You want to buy a sword. What if you don’t have the money for it?
Simple. You don’t get to buy it. Not yet.
You can’t tell to the shop keeper that you’ll pay for it later. You can’t tell them that you’ll pay X now and then X monthly with interest.
So what do you need to do to get the product?
You must work for it first.
This is true for almost every proper game in existence.
While that “work” may certainly be different from real life, it is still work.
The principle of working for money
The principle that games teach is: work → payment → stuff.
“Well, duh! That’s a no-brainer!”
I hear people say that line about many things. But it’s different to “understand” something and to truly embody it. Many lazy people understand that they should be pulling themselves together, but they don’t. Many obese people understand that they should be losing weight, but they don’t. Alcohol drinkers and smokers understand that it’s bad for them, but they don’t stop.
Many people who take loans “understand” that they probably shouldn’t be buying things they can’t afford. Yet, they keep doing that.
If you can’t afford it, you shouldn’t buy it. That is really important if you don’t want to live under a constant stress of financial instability.
You don’t embody this principle just by me saying it to you. It doesn’t matter how many blog posts or books you read about it. If you want to be a person who only buys things that he or she can afford, you need to hammer this principle to your core. Carve it into your very essence.
Buying things only when I can afford them, and having to work for money. These are truths that are present in most video games. As someone who has played games since I was a child, I like to think that is where I have learned to live by those truths.
Do yourself and your children a life-long favor, and make sure they learn to live by them as well.
Learning where to invest
Not wasting your money beforehand is one thing, but games can teach you even more.
Games usually reward making beneficial investments. The reason you want to buy that sword is that it improves your combat proficiency, allowing you to defeat stronger opponents. This in turn improves your chance for survival and allows you to gain greater profit.
Investments are very important if you want to turn the money you have into more money.
Finally, the best thing is that games are a safe virtual environment. You can make all the mistakes you want without destroying yourself financially in real life.
You may think I’m exaggerating, but there’s more and more talk about how people are crippling their futures with student loans. Young people are taking loans in a part of their lives where they have very little understanding of finances.
You really should want to have a safe environment to practice this stuff first. Games offer that.
“Umm, Gheralf? What about mobile games?”
Oh. Right. I almost forgot to mention the obvious exceptions.
The games that will bankrupt you
“Games teach my child to handle money better? That’s great! Timmy, here’s your smartphone. Play as much as you like!”
Holy heck! No!
Keep in mind that there are always exceptions! When it comes to games, there are two of these exceptions: mobile games and any games with microtransactions. (These often overlap, but not always.)
Avoid those kind of games like the plague.
And don’t be confused by alternative terms or wordplay. The game has microtransactions even if it tries to call them “loot boxes” or “surprise mechanics”. (Yes, that is actually what some companies call them!)
Games with microtransactions can cause you to end up wasting stupid amounts of money. Remember when I said games were a safe virtual environment where you can’t destroy your financial life? All that safety is thrown out of the window in the presence of microtransactions.
It doesn’t matter if the game “got teh gud grafix” or some journalist (who got paid a thousand bucks by the game’s publisher) wrote a positively glowing review of it.
Don’t fall into the trap where other children are pressuring your child to get the game.
It also doesn’t matter if a mobile game doesn’t have microtransactions. If it’s a mobile game, it is most likely made of mechanics that are designed to quickly overpump you full of dopamine. This makes you yearn for instant rewards, and unable to focus on long-term goals. So instead of learning how to use money wisely, your brain becomes attracted to gambling.
This can be especially dangerous for children who, as adults, will fondly remember the games (and other toys) they used to play in their youth.
So, mobile games and microtransactions:
Avoid. Those. Like. The. Plague.
And especially keep your children away from them.
Has playing games actually taught me how to handle money?
In all honesty, many things affect what and how we learn things. For example, my father was very quick to take loans and spend the money. It is likely that my bad experiences about that also affect my decisions.
I also remember times in school when I would lend money to other students and never get it back.
Despite being a trainwreck with money, my father did his best to try and teach me to be better. I wouldn’t think we were poor in my childhood, but it was rare for us to buy new games.
Instead, my father would take me to an old bookstore that also sold used games. If I wanted a new game, I would usually have to trade two old ones for it and pay a little extra. (Note that a “new game” sometimes meant a used game that I just didn’t own yet.)
I definitely regret quite a few decisions I made during those trades. Sometimes I traded in games that I was really fond of (Killer Instinct, Street Fighter II). Sometimes I bought back games for nostalgia, despite those games being quite terrible (Ghostbusters II for NES). I also bought games that were too difficult for me (Lemmings).
I would love to say that this did teach me to avoid bad trades. But it can also be that it just made me not want to sell things as much. Especially not the games I own.
Still, when it comes to how I handle money, I don’t think I can ignore the positive effect that playing games has had on me.