Cover: Videogames

Videogames

A Promising Strategy for Improving Financial Literacy

Published Dec 10, 2012

by Nicholas W. Maynard, Preeti Mehta, Jonas Parker, Jeffrey Steinberg

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Research Questions

  1. How has the Doorway to Dreams Fund disseminated its Financial Entertainment videogames?
  2. Can Financial Entertainment videogames effectively reach low- and middle-income individuals?
  3. Do Financial Entertainment videogames effectively bolster the players' financial knowledge?
  4. How can Financial Entertainment videogames motivate more real-world financial decisions?

Most American families are not saving enough money for the future and are carrying too much debt. Of those families, the most vulnerable are those that earn the least. While financial education can help these households improve their prospects, it is difficult to reach them through traditional programs. The typical approach to this problem has been to focus on the supply side: that is, to increase the availability of financial education programs. A promising new approach is to focus instead on the demand side by increasing the appetite for financial education. To this end, the Doorways to Dreams Fund (D2D), with support from RAND's Financial Literacy Center, developed and disseminated a series of social videogames that immerse players in the roles of business owners or financial advisors who must learn quickly how to make smart financial decisions or face bankruptcy. This concept, which D2D calls Financial Entertainment, is aimed at imparting basic principles of financial management, including avoiding fees, minimizing debt, managing consumption, and maximizing savings, without the use of traditional instruction. This brief presents an overview of Financial Entertainment as well as the preliminary findings of research conducted on the design, marketing strategies, and planned advancements for D2D's videogames reported in the working paper, Can Games Build Financial Capability?

Key Findings

Using Dissemination Strategies Targeted at Specific Populations, Financial Entertainment Videogames Can Effectively Reach Low- and Middle-Income Individuals

  • Financial Entertainment videogames reached over 280,000 people nationwide during the Doorways to Dreams Fund's distribution pilot testing efforts.
  • Survey data collected during the Doorways to Dreams Fund's distribution pilot tests conducted at Fort Hood and Ivy Tech Community College show that the majority of players have annual household incomes of less than $40,000.

Preliminary Assessments Suggest that Playing Financial Entertainment Videogames Can Bolster Financial Knowledge and Confidence — and Sometimes Motivate Real-World Decisions

  • Informal testing of low- and middle-income adults carried out by the Doorways to Dream Fund shows improvement in both financial knowledge and confidence after 30-45 minutes of playing Financial Entertainment videogames.
  • In a pilot outreach effort that used a customized videogame with built-in opportunities to make real-world decisions about personal finances, some participants enrolled in a 401(k) or increased the amount they contribute to their 401(k) while playing the game.

Recommendations

  • Further research will be needed to validate the effects Financial Entertainment videogames have on financial knowledge, confidence, and decisionmaking.
  • Further experimentation will reveal how best to integrate real-world financial decisions into Financial Entertainment gameplay.

This issue of Insight summarizes research conducted within the Financial Literacy Center.

This report is part of the RAND working paper brief series. RAND working paper briefs are short summaries of reviewed working papers that are aimed at a policy audience. Unless otherwise indicated, working paper briefs can be quoted and cited without permission of the author, provided the source is clearly referred to as a working paper briefs.

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