UI Extension Educators Develop Video Game
A new video game that combines zombies and debt taps into popular culture to help young people learn about finances.
Like all good games, it has a twist. Credit cards are a key to establishing good credit. That is a notion that goes against popular financial advice from many sources.
“Night of the Living Debt” offers lessons in financial literacy for young people through a video game scenario created by University of Idaho Extension educators Luke Erickson and Lyle Hansen. Funded by agricultural lender CoBank, the game was developed by New Mexico State University.
The game is the latest learning tool offered through the Northwest Youth Financial Education program that Hansen and Erickson pioneered with funding by Northwest Farm Credit Services in 2014.
The game is now available for free download on the Apple App Store for use on iPads. Search for “Night of the Living Debt.”
Got an iPad?
During the game, players must earn income by finding prizes and cashing them in. The next step is deciding whether to invest in a college education, a car or a more expensive home, and whether to save money or get a credit card.
For the gamers, deciding to use a credit card creates a zombie that stalks the card holder demanding payment. Whenever a decision involves the use of credit, a zombie is created that follows the player until the debt is satisfied. Or the rent zombie appears to collect. Or the car payment zombie.
The game teaches players that some debt can be good by helping them to establish good credit. The trick is to use the card enough and to pay it regularly so that players create a positive credit history.
Overextending themselves, in the game’s world as in real life, makes them vulnerable financially.
“We didn’t make the rules,” Hansen said, “but we want players to understand what the rules are so they can get an A on their credit score.”
The credit score is increasingly important, Erickson added. More than half of employers use credit in evaluating job candidates. The military uses personal credit information to assess security clearances, which in turn are used to determine whether candidates can advance in rank.
Make Credit Cards Into Tools
“Credit cards, if you use them as we suggest, can be a very powerful and helpful tool to build your credit. If you abuse them, they can get you into a lot of trouble,” Erickson said.
The right way to use credit cards, Hansen said, is to completely pay them off each month and avoid carrying a balance.
“Your No. 1 best tool to build a credit score is a credit card,” Hansen added. “It is a revolving account, it is easy to use and it is something that you can have with you for years. If someone has one at a younger age, they can use it and build it up to a 10-year account and longer.”
“The game itself is showing that technique. If you use a credit card and pay it off in full, your credit score maximizes,” Hansen said. “We’re not condoning using it to take on debt.”
There are a lot of myths about how to build up a good credit score, Erickson said, such as actually racking up a lot of debt including student loans, car loans and others.
“The fact of the matter is the best way to build your credit is to get a credit card, use it sparingly and pay it off within the grace period each month,” Erickson added.
And like revolving credit obligations everywhere, the zombies aren’t all that scary on screen but their demands are the stuff of nightmares.
The game employs a reverse strategy from Erickson and Hansen’s popular “Credit Score Millionaire” game that displays directly how financial decisions can affect credit scores and the costs to consumers.
“Night of the Living Debt” is more about budgeting and matching income with expenses. Hansen said, “The core concept of having a good credit score is you have to be a good budgeter and be a good manager with your money.”
Northwest Youth Financial Education bases all of its programs on an interactive, hands-on learning environment.
“There’s a lot of research out there that says learning through gaming is actually very effective because it is experiential learning in a digital environment,” Erickson said. "We’re creating a fictional digital environment, but it is a place where there are real consequences to decisions.”
The game began as a way to support UI Extension 4-H youth financial literacy efforts. The game can supplement education beyond that target audience.
“I have learned through all the games we’ve created that adults and youth are engaged a lot differently than when you give a presentation,” Hansen said.
“It’s a playful idea but at the same time you actually learn real consequences,” Erickson said. “If you don’t keep up with your bills and make your payment on time the zombies come and take a bite out of you and your credit score.”