Give Your Kids Video Games to Teach Them About Money

When I was a kid, I got an allowance. It was a perfectly servicable allowance, but it didn’t offer a lot of purchasing power; every four weeks or so I’d have enough money to go down to the Sam Goody and buy a new Original Broadway Cast recording on cassette. (They were more expensive than pop albums because they were often two cassettes in one package.)

And that’s what the allowance is supposed to do: teach kids that if you buy an ice cream today you might not have enough money to buy Les Miserables tomorrow. That’s an important lesson, but it’s pretty small-scale.

I mean, it wasn’t like the lesson I was simultaneously learning in Final Fantasies IV through VII, where I had enormous amounts of cash and was using it to buy property, speculate on the Chocobo market, dip my toes into gambling, figure out how to save enough money to buy the armor I needed, etc. etc. etc.

I have a secret theory that if you give a child a video game like the ones in the Final Fantasy series, where earning, spending, gambling, and even investing money is part of the gameplay mechanic, and then maybe you watch your kid play occasionally while you do emails on the iPad, you’re going to learn a lot about how your kid handles money.

Some kids are going to blow all their in-game cash right away, and then they’re either going to have to spend hours grinding for more, or not be able to move forward in the game. Other kids are going to save and hoard — that was my gameplay technique — leveling up their characters “in the field” so they wouldn’t have to spring for armor or better weapons. You do know that with a high-level fighter you don’t need anything more than the mop weapon, right? A good fighter can do wonders with a mop. (Yes, I mean an actual mop. It’s a joke weapon in FFVII.)

And then, by the time you hit the last third of the game, having money makes a significant difference. It gives you freedom you wouldn’t have if you’d spent it all on potions and Phoenix Downs. (Could this be a metaphor for life?)

Of course, I don’t know how a parent would start the conversation “Hey, I see that you’re spending your party’s money irresponsibly when you play that video game I bought you. Would you like to talk about the importance of financial planning?” Luckily, I suspect the video game will teach that particular lesson itself, especially those old-school games that actually have consequences if you don’t save and buy the right stuff.

Since I am not a parent, I’ll turn this over to the actual parents on The Billfold: what do you think? Give your kids an allowance, but then give them a video game to secretly train them in managing large amounts of money? They won’t even know they’re learning; they’ll just think they’re collecting the crystals and saving the kingdom.