Personal finance education may be more important than ever with the economy reeling from COVID-19 whereby students are entering a world where high unemployment, limited finances, and a recession could have lasting effects. Even without the pandemic, far too few students receive any form of financial education and yet are expected to make big decisions in the dark about student loans, credit card spending, and budgeting for living expenses.

Personal finance is something we all have to handle, so why not make personal finance a fun game that we can gather around the proverbial kitchen table and have more open conversations about money and how it can be a tool to achieve what matters most to us? This is where our virtual game board called The Game of College Life and accompanying website play a role in improving students' financial literacy.

Financial literacy leads to not only an increase in student applications for financial aid and the use of lower-cost private loans, but also a decrease in the use of higher-cost private loans and credit cards. While smart financial and life decisions can help students graduate with less debt, our game recognizes that sometimes there are environmental variables that we as students cannot control for like family emergencies (e.g. family member fell sick and needs you to send money back home).

When we emerge from this pandemic, the world will probably look different in fundamental ways. At the very least, having financial literacy can provide a foundation for us all to make decisions that support a healthy and financially secure future. With this game and our accompany resource website, we hope to help make our dent in the world and spark meaningful reflections with ourselves and conversations with others.

What it does

Like Hasbro's popular board game called The Game of Life, our project called The Game of College Life simulates a student's four years in college from orientation to commencement. It's a 2-4 player game (for the demo we intentionally capped number of players at 2) where players start by choosing a persona as either a first-generation college student or a legacy college student. Players then roll the die to advance their avatar and land on board spaces associated with different categories to experience the financial ups and downs of and surprises related to broad categories of:

  • academics (e.g. maintaining grades to keep a scholarship, winning scholarships/hacakathons)
  • typical college living expenses and decision points (e.g. food, renting apartment vs. staying in a dorm, purchasing airplane ticket to go home during Thanksgiving)
  • personal finances (e.g. loans, credit cards, FAFSA)

Card scenarios are designed so that a specific persona would have a greater or lesser probability of encountering card scenario. For example, both legacy and first-generation college students may pick up the card for spending money to fly home for Thanksgiving, but first-generation college students have a lower possibility of picking up that card versus legacy students.

After players go around the board four times whereby each time around the board represents a year in college, they see where they stand with their finances and are offered a link to our website that goes more into depth on the concepts introduced in the game. Whereas most sites introduce concepts by topic and offer so many articles and resources that site visitors don't know where to begin, we intentionally organized concepts by personality types. To give an example of each:

  • For planners, we introduce budgeting concepts like fixed, variable, and periodic expenses
  • For environmentalists, we discuss reducing waste while being good to our wallets by buying secondhand clothing.
  • For procrastinators, we talk about automating finances to avoid late fees
  • For spenders, we highlight the power of credit cards and interest rates and how to spend smartly
  • For risk-takers, we provide the ins-and-outs of loans and IRAs, both of which involves calculated risk, represents an investment in ourselves, and is potentially our first introduction to financial markets

Not only does our game leverage game-based learning to teach students the importance of having a healthy balance between academics, work, and social activities while continuing to manage debt but it also sparks conversations on the different opportunities afforded to and challenges faced by each persona. Our game is less about analyzing how we win the game itself and instead more about exposing students to concepts key for managing money, understanding economic opportunity cost, and evoking questions about why some students might end up better off than others financially.

How we built it

We built our project with React/JavaScript, HTML, and CSS.

Challenges we ran into

Passing variable info from one component to another and from one file to another was something we needed to wrap our head around, as we met with error messages stating that we were passing in empty values or that methods defined weren't recognized.

Additionally, while CSS is powerful, when div tags become nested, determine what layer/component we're formatting and how is a lot more challenging! Laying text over an image is a lot easier when we don't have to consider its layout in relation to other elements on the page.

Accomplishments that we're proud of

We were a team made up for two experienced and three first-time hackathoners. We were all stretching ourselves in different ways!

  • First-time hacakathoners were our tech leads or a co-tech lead for both the game and the website

  • Main graphic designer with limited coding experience on the team contributed to abstracted algorithmic discussion on how to implement game mechanics (e.g. how to achieve end game if a variable like number of years in college changed (due to needing an extra year to make up for unearned college credits)

  • We were all using technologies that were not in our wheelhouse and that we wanted to learn more about and become better at

  • This was first time that experienced hackathoner led and managed a team of first-time hackathoners - so proud of how the team rallied to create this project and helped made a vague game idea more concrete

What we learned

For a first-time-hackathoner-majority team, having a strong project manager to facilitate conversations, drive a vision and break down deliverables, and cultivate an environment where team members aren't afraid to ask questions or challenge each other is important.

This was also either our first or second time coding in React, and learning new concepts like states was a huge learning curve that we were excited to tackle. Additionally, this is the second website our lead website developer made and there were new concepts introduced like CSS that we were happy to learn about.

In discussing ideas and options, we learned about new features and technologies that we'll look into after the hackathon like for data visualization and how JavaScript and CSS can animate what's on a webpage.

What's next for The Game of College Life

  • Creating an online forum for students to connect, ask questions of, and receive help from one another.
  • Coming up with more personas and card scenarios with more conditionals (e.g. having a bar for satisfaction with academics, social life, etc. and have those change depending on different scenarios encountered)
  • Adding features to the game such as: >>> allowing players to randomize their persona and have them guess which they thought they were at the end >>> adding ways to provide more information about the concept underlying the cards in the game by scraping information from the website
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