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What I Learned about Finance by Playing StarCraft

Over the last month or so I have been playing the StarCraft Computer Game. For those who are unaware, StarCraft is a Real-Time Strategy Game made in the late 90s. Blizzard, the company that created the game, recently released a version of the game for free to promote an HD version to be released soon. As I have been playing this strategy game I realized there are some interesting financial takeaways if you pay close attention. What you say? Learning something about finance from a computer game? Yes, I in fact believe you can learn a lot about finances, especially at a young age, from playing games.

My History with Video Games

Around the end of my high school years I was a huge computer gamer. I always had the latest PC and the latest associated game. It was certainly an expensive hobby, which is a story for another day. My favorite type of games were real time strategy games.

What are Real Time Strategy Games

Real Time Strategy games are basically games where in real time you collect resources and spend them to develop a battle plan in what amounts to a live version of the board game Risk. You collect as much funds as you can, build your armies to defend yourself, and then strike at your enemies when the time is right. The most famous of these where Command and Conquer, StarCraft, and Warcraft. (For those young kids, there were versions of both Command and Conquer and Warcraft later that were different game categories. These happened after I stopped playing games and went to college).

What does this have to do with Finance?

Well as noted I’ve been playing StarCraft a lot. When I lose a level against the computer it’s usually not because of the war aspect of the game. I am good at defending my bases and other non-finance related items. What gets me, kind of ironically, is running out of resources. Which brings us to the financial aspects of the game.

Resources and Finance

In most of these games you have all three of the legs of finance:

  • Investment in the Future to Increase Earnings. You can invest in ways to get more funds quicker. Say buying more resource gatherers or in some games investing in tools that make future purchases cheaper. The parallel is that in real life you can invest in assets that make funds grow quicker via passive income methods. You can also invest in yourself to increase your earnings through your career.
  • Investment in Stronger Units. You can also invest in more powerful units. This is somewhat akin to buying something you need, right sized to your need. You can buy a new $50,000 car to commute to work, or a used $15,000 car to commute to work. Both fit the need. The 50K example often does not do the job better than the 15K version. In the same way, a tank probably is a bit of overkill to deal with a soldier. Spending too much on the wrong tool can leave you with not enough finances to get by later. This was usually where I ended up in trouble. Starcraft came out after I left games, so before now I had never played it. As such I really struggled the first time through the game, with no manual, to determine which units fit the situation. I would buy the Porsche equivalent when I needed a Civic.
  • Saving for an Emergency. Occasionally, in a game you will miss a potential attack. This leaves you scrambling with any cash you might have available to build your defenses back and recover. Just like in real life it pays to have an emergency fund in case something surprised you. Of course, an emergency fund in real life has other options besides cash but you still need options.
  • Practice and Knowledge Improve Outcomes.  Ultimately just like in real life, practicing the game and reading up about it online has helped my performance immensely. As I learned what I needed for certain situations I then make the appropriate purchases improving my outcomes. In the same way in your life, once you learn what you value you can target those things to maximize outcomes. It really is a shame we do not teach more in school about finances, but that is why we as parents must teach our children about finances. We should ensure they can practice financial management whenever possible.

Games are a Great Way To Teach Kids About Finance

I have made the point in the past that one of the best ways to teach your kids about finance is games. Games allow kids to learn in a fun way while practicing those skills. What I had not done until this past week is realize I had, in a way, done so myself as a child. Typically, more traditional games like Monopoly come to mind when I think of teaching kids about finance. But, there is a whole world of games that can help with the training across many formats: Computer games, board games, and even card games.

Play and Childhood Learning

Researchers agree that playing is an effective learning tool, especially in young kids. There are even some that even argue younger children learn better by playing. Regardless of your view point on the relative worth of play based education, it’s undeniable that it holds value in your child’s education. Perhaps it’s time you introduce your kids to the games of your youth. (age appropriately obviously)

Did you play computer games as a kid? Anyone else a Real-Time Strategy fan? Have you taught your kids about finance using games? Any other games you might suggest that have finance corollaries?

8 Comments

  1. Mrs. Groovy
    Mrs. Groovy December 13, 2017

    Oh, man. I’m really feeling the generation gap here. I didn’t play video games as a kid. Yes, we played Monopoly, but we bent the rules and stole each other’s hotels so there weren’t many lessons there.

    I like the analogies you make between games and finances, especially your point about practice and knowledge. Since games are so much fun for kids (and adults) wouldn’t it be amazing if we could invent some quirky, viral-like game that could be used to teach financial literacy in K through 12?

    • FullTimeFinance
      FullTimeFinance December 14, 2017

      Never too late to play now…

      Definitely a good idea on the viral game. I’m surprised no one has done so to date.

  2. Passivecanadianincome
    Passivecanadianincome December 13, 2017

    Nice post. I used to play starcraft all the time. I thought it would be about zerging! Quickly creating a financial army (passive income) to win early and retire early. Great analogies. I was a terran guy. And loved the turret d games! Dam makes me wanna play now.
    Cheers

    • FullTimeFinance
      FullTimeFinance December 14, 2017

      I’m definitely preferring Terran as well. It’s probably as much because I started out decades ago with Command and conquer/Warcraft. Their gameplay more closely lines up. That does go well with the concept that familiarity breeds confidence and competence.

  3. Andy
    Andy December 15, 2017

    You know, I was tempted when I heard it was going free. I’ve never played StarCraft before, but now I may have to finally check it out. Love the lessons!

    • FullTimeFinance
      FullTimeFinance December 16, 2017

      Its definitely worth the free pick up.

  4. OthalaFehu
    OthalaFehu December 16, 2017

    I am a little older, I played Red Alert, just before C&C, and Warcraft II, I was good at war BECAUSE I destroyed the other guys resources. Your post takes me back!

    • FullTimeFinance
      FullTimeFinance December 16, 2017

      I was definitely a red alert and warcraft person as well. StarCraft came out around the time I went to college.

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