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Serious Games Help Students Build A Positive Credit History

Night of the Living Debt, developed by the Learning Games Lab at New Mexico State University, has won gold honors in the 2016 International Serious Play Awards competition under the K-12 Financial Literacy category.

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.

The free game is available for distribution on Apple iTunes for use on iPads.

Designed for high schoolers, it is also suitable for adults interested in learning about credit issues and debt, giving players the opportunity to learn real world principles of credit-building. The underlying learning concepts driving game context are Credit Scores, Credit Reports, Healthy Credit Card Strategies, Subprime Lending, Saving and Emergency Funds.  

Funded by agricultural lender CoBank, the game was developed by New Mexico State University for the Northwest Youth Financial Education program, a multi-state partnership between Northwest Farm Credit Services, University of Idaho Extension, and the extension systems of Alaska, Washington, Oregon, and Montana. Extension educators, Luke Erickson and Lyle Hansen, serve as co-leaders of this program.

During development, the Night of the Living Debt was tested in classroom settings and in the NMSU Learning Games Lab

Through this Serious Game, students shall gain a greater understanding of the impact of their financial decisions on savings and credit scores, which include making payments on time, keeping balances low, understanding differences between lenders and preparing for financial emergencies, but in a game world where unforgiving zombies are the creditors!

In the game, zombies have taken over the financial world and require regular payments if you and your credit score are to stay in one piece. 

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. Credit cards are a key to establishing good credit in the game, a notion that goes against popular financial advice.

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 help 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.

“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.

And like revolving credit obligations everywhere, the zombies aren’t all that scary on screen, but their demands are the stuff of nightmares.

The Serious Game employs a reverse strategy from the Erickson and Hansen’s popular Credit Score Millionaire game that displays directly how financial decisions can affect credit scores and the costs to consumers.