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5 fun online games that teach valuable money lessons

By Daniel Workman

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Video games improve creativity, decision-making and perception, according to university research cited in a recent article in The Wall Street Journal. The research also found that players learn more from intense, action-based games than from traditional (and dull) educational software. reviewed five online games that teach players to wisely manage money -- but that are far from

Celebrity Calamity
After choosing an onscreen persona, you serve as the personal money manager for a famous star who spends beyond his or her means. You decide which income-generating gigs the celebrity accepts, and also make fast-paced shopping choices via debit or credit cards based on the never-ending demands that your client makes.

Primary audience: Young adults.

Lessons learned: Because celebrity personas earn and spend large amounts of money quickly, you have to pay careful attention to avoid banking fees, credit card financing charges and late payment penalties.

Why it's engaging: At the end of each assignment, a happiness meter displays whether the celebrity is content, anxious or angry about how you're balancing his or her income and expenses. Plus, you learn just how fast the rich and famous can make and lose their fortunes depending on how careful they -- or in this case you -- are with their cash.

Financial Football
You're in command as you direct all offensive and defensive plays for an animated National Football League team. Your success depends on whether you correctly answer financial questions ranging from insurance deductibles to fraud scenarios. The harder the question, the more yards your team moves on the field.

Primary audience: The game has three levels, depending on age.

  • "Rookie" is for ages 11 to 14 (teaches basic concepts, like budgeting).
  • "Pro" is for ages 14 to 18 (focuses on more complex topics like certificates of deposit).
  • "Hall of fame" is for players older than 18 (focuses on more challenging areas such as adjustable-rate mortgages).

Lessons learned: Budgeting, saving and more complex matters like retirement savings and mortgages. Like top football players, winners in the Financial Football game are disciplined, enjoy playing and continuously apply their skill sets.

Why it's engaging: The realistic animation is convincing. From noise of the crowd as your team comes onto the field to the referee raising his arms when your team scores a touchdown, it's easy to believe that you're participating in real, competitive NFL games.

Planet Orange
Simulating space travel across brightly decorated Planet Orange, players navigate their flights by answering interactive queries on the value of money, setting a budget, investing and reaching savings goals. The video game also has a space station control panel for parents, as well as a resource centre for teachers.

Primary audience: Students in grades 1 to 6.

Lessons learned: The game features a job board for users to earn credits by performing onscreen tasks, and presents clear captions explaining incorrect choices. Players are stranded when they spend more than they can afford, and then learn how to barter after their money runs out.

Why it's engaging: Planet Orange appeals to children's sense of adventure and natural curiosity as they brave simulated deserts, climb mountains and dodge alligators. While immersed in those experiences, children learn the vital importance of earning, spending, investing and saving money.

Three Jars
This cartoon-based game is unique because youngsters can earn real money using three online jars for saving, spending and donating. That's because parents link their credit cards to the virtual jars, and approve a transaction when their child asks to buy a specific product or make a donation. Before making a request, kids must earn enough "IOU" credits by doing chores around the home.

Primary audience: Children ages five to 13.

Lessons learned: Visual feedback from the Three Jars game enables players to associate the rewards of earning an allowance, spending wisely and saving.

Why it's engaging: Players can quickly see whether they have enough money in their "spend" jar to pay for short-term goals (like buying an iPod), medium-term goals (like taking a vacation) and long-term goals (like paying for college courses).

The Stock Market Game
Students use this multi-user game to learn how to evaluate stocks and mutual funds, and then build a quality investment portfolio in a simulated trading environment. Live tournaments are also available, in which competitors invest $50,000 in play money equally divided among five hand-picked stocks.

Lessons learned: Successful investing requires hard work and effort, but can also be exciting. Participants use critical thinking and decision-making skills, and research investment news on the Internet. The game also helps sharpen math skills as learners compare their profits on the ever-changing game leader board.

Primary audience: Students from grade four to college, including international competitors.

Why it's engaging: In the organized eight-week competitions, winning school teams take home a $250 prize, with $500 awarded to top individual contestants age 13 and over. Players improve their financial skills in a safe environment, while learning how to invest wisely and make money in the market.

See related: New online game puts your money smarts to the test; How to shop for the lowest credit card fees

Published: March 21, 2012