Monetary policy isn’t a game. OR IS IT???

August 30, 2013

Because hey, why not? (Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland)

The Federal Reserve is a powerful institution charged with shepherding the U.S. and global economy in the aftermath of an unprecedented financial crisis. The work of this organization is not exactly fun and games.

Except when it is.

Some of the 12 reserve banks across the country have taken it upon themselves to create online games — of varying degree of cleverness — to help explain the esoteric work of the nation's central bank.These are the Games of the Federal Reserve.

“They really help to make the dismal science a little less dismal,” said Bob Jabaily, associate editor at the Boston Fed who has become the equivalent of the central bank’s Dungeon Master.

He is the brains behind the Fed’s first online economics game, "Peanuts & Crackerjacks," which has become the second most popular feature on the Boston Fed’s Web site, after current job openings. He followed that hit with "Show Business: The Economics of Entertainment." Jabaily writes the questions, scripts the dialogue and attempts to make the Fed exciting.

“Economists will talk mostly to one another and then they wonder why the public won’t engage,” he said. “We’re trying to broaden the economics conversation and make it more inclusive and reach a more diverse audience.”

So are they any fun? And do they teach you anything about economics? Here's a rundown.

The game: Peanuts & Crackerjacks

The premise: Economics and sports trivia in nine innings. Get three answers wrong and you’re out!

From: Boston Fed

Comments: An appropriate theme for a game coming out of the Boston Fed. The game’s design was updated a few years ago and includes a cheering crowd and a satisfying thwack of the bat when questions are answered correctly. The topics range from basic economics (“Markets occur when …”) to sports arcana. (Do you know how Bill Veeck was? Ok, maybe you do. I didn’t.) But just like actual baseball games, this online economics version runs a little long. I only lasted through two innings.

The game: Escape from the Barter Islands

The premise: Trading is hard. Money is efficient!

From: Cleveland Fed

Comments: Learn the benefits of a monetary system as you trade oranges and other goods in search of a sail that will help your boat find its way home. This is for a younger crowd, but even some of us older folks had trouble making all the trades required in the allotted time. Point taken! The game goes by quickly enough to play during the boring parts of the Fed’s news conferences.

The game: You Look Like a Million Bucks

The premise: Make that money, literally.

From: Cleveland Fed

Comments: Design your own million-dollar bill. Choose a historical silhouette for the center, a personal motto and special touches like custom curlicues. Not really a game (and, sadly, not really legal tender), but great for sharing on Facebook.

The game: Show Business: The Economics of Entertainment

The premise: Rockenomics.

From: Boston Fed

Comments: Don’t skip the super snazzy intro. Answer enough trivia questions correctly, and you can move up from a garage band to a wedding singer to a platinum superstar. (What Top 40 artist doesn't inherently understand economics?) The game also includes “bonus tracks” with fascinating history lessons on the business of entertainment industry.

The game: Fed Chairman Game

The premise: Can you beat Ben Bernanke?

From: San Francisco Fed

Comments: For adult users only! This game allows you to control interest rates for the U.S. economy for four years. Watch inflation and unemployment react to the rates you set – with periodic alarmist headlines in the newspapers tracking your progress. My economy overheated with 9 percent inflation, even after I jacked up interest rates. Oops.

Thankfully, it was just a game.

For a list of all the games on the Fed’s Web sites, click here.

Ylan Q. Mui is a financial reporter at The Washington Post covering the Federal Reserve and the economy.
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