Budget Hero: A game to balance the Federal budget

Kai Wong, Serious Games Spotlight No Comments

Kai Wong | November 2, 2012

As the 2012 Presidential election draws near, politicians are employing a number of strategies to address many key issues that voters have. One such issue is the economy and balancing the Federal budget. However, for many, this has become a buzzword: while politicians may offer plans toward economic recovery, the general public may not know enough about the subject to differentiate between them. This is where serious games have attempted to make a difference.

A recent serious game, entitled “Budget Hero”, gives users a chance to try and balance the Federal budget. Developed by the nonpartisan Wilson Center and the Public Insight Network, this serious game allows users to not only test what specific changes to the budget might do, but also allow them a chance to see the long-term effects of their choices.

Budget Hero

According to Jane Harman, a nine-term Congresswoman who heads the Wilson Center, more than one million people have played the game so far, and they have realized two things: “One, how hard it is, but two, that it can be done if there’s a will to do it” [1].

While serious games have been recognized as a possible tool for education, one of the areas where they have suffered is the balance between efficacy and fun. For many, ‘playing games’ is often synonymous with wasting time, especially when most games are not for educational purposes. Even for those that try to educate, there is often a matter of efficacy: after all, why create a game when a video or computer program may do the job just as well?

The answer, in this case, is fun. The federal budget is such a complex topic that even if there was a well-designed and informative set of videos on the subject, not many people would watch it. Budget Hero, on the other hand, has been targeted towards children age 8 and up, and is fun enough to motivate students to not only understand the challenges facing Congress, but also debate about several key issues.

This game, however, is not without its’ problems. Critics of the game state that since there is only a single solution to the game [2], the nonpartisan Wilson Center is pushing an agenda. In addition, many of the solutions offered seem to be long-term only or otherwise impractical. However, this serious game nevertheless allows the users a chance to try and solve the problems facing the Federal budget. These users, in turn, may be more informed when it comes to voting in the upcoming election.

You can try Budget Hero here: http://www.publicinsightnetwork.org/budgethero/


1. O’Sullivan, M. (2011, November). Students debate US budget through online game. Voice of America.

2. Black, W. K. (2012, August). “Budget Hero” – Public media’s most despicable dinancial propaganda. New Economic Perspectives.

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