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Water Cooler Games served as the web's primary forum for "videogames with an agenda" — coverage of the uses of video games in advertising, politics, education, and other everyday activities, outside the sphere of entertainment.

The site was maintained at watercoolergames.org from 2003-2009, where it was edited by myself and Gonzalo Frasca. It is now archived here in full.
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Budget Hero
by Ian Bogost May 18, 2008

Budget Hero is the new serious game about balancing the federal budget, from American Public Media.

I've been out of commission recently, so instead of writing my own thoughts on Budget Hero I want to encourage you to read a thorough review by Georgia Tech Digital Media Ph.D. student Ben Medler.

Budget Hero is not the first budget game, but it makes a number of improvements over previous efforts, making the experience of budget choices more deliberate and less arbitrary. The main complaint one could offer is the same one that someone mounted against The Redistricting Game at the GDC 08 Serious Games Summit: by focusing on the numeric aspects of budgeting rather than the citizen's experience of the results, the game risks missing the point, becoming a game about politicking rather than lived experience.

Comments (5)

Did you happen to double click on the cards? Drilling into the cards displays a tremendous amount of information, including citizen impact!

Yes, you're right. What I had in mind was a simulation (or multiple simulations) of the experience of these different policies,not just a description of their impact from a policy level. It's a vaguely unfair critique, since this implies a different game entirely.

Ian Bogost on May 19, 2008 4:37 PM

I do think this is already old news, but I do want to say something. I do agree with Ian Bogost, and think that there does in fact needs to be some sort of Political Influence counter that determines how many government programs/budget cuts you can implement every year, in order to try and make it realistic.

Other than that, you do got people arguing that the game is biased towards liberalism, however, it just takes more creativity to try and create a conservative government that can reduce the budget. I think most criticism comes from the fact that the game is highly in favor of tax increases as a way to deal with the budget, which many people may disagree with, with taxes driving businesses away.

In fact, it is very possible to have a Socialist government in the simulation as long as you tax heavily. However, this may be just taking the logic of the simulation, and then breaking it to the point of creating such a situation, and not due to any inherent bias.

What I felt really went wrong in this game, however, is that there is a 'win-state' in this game. This win-state is 2070+. Before I discovered the win-state, I thought the game was claiming that it would be impossible to save the US from the national debt, which I felt is...er...pretty cynical. But once I found the win-state, I then began trying different techinques in order to acheive this win-state, caring little for the actual effects on the people.

Well, actually, I have one more criticism to add.

It appears, altough I could be wrong, that the game promotes the idea that budget cuts will not be enough to save the government, and that tax increases will be needed. This, by itself, will cause much anger by the pro-growth faction, but that is how the simulation is.

I'm not stating these things to claim the game was wrong, it's still far better than other budget sims, but I do believe that these things may need to be pointed out.

I've written up an extensive analysis of Budget Hero as a serious game at my blog, Boom Culture (http://boomculture.blogspot.com). Please check it out at http://boomculture.blogspot.com/2009/02/serious-game-budget-hero_23.html if you're interested!

 

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