Budget Hero is a web-based video game that allows players to attempt to balance the federal budget of the United States. Players explore sectors of the economy in order to find ways to balance the budget, prevent the budget bust of 2032, and stay true to goals they choose for themselves.
Budget Hero is free to play, and players can choose to register or play without registering. There are no extra benefits to registering, and an email address and personal information are required to complete registration.
Once the game begins, players can choose to watch or skip a quick tutorial "briefing" on how to play. Players will then be asked to select three badges, each representing a group of issues, such as "Health and Wellness," "Efficient Government," and "Energy Independence," surrounding the budget. Players will work toward the goals these issues encompass as they play the game.
After players select their badges, they enter the main game. Players can click on buildings representing sectors of the economy to see cards that describe options for balancing the budget, or click on the "Taxes" button to view taxes that can be added or cut. After choosing the selection of cards and tax cuts or additions that they think will best avoid breaking the budget and best serve their badge goals, players hit the "See How Your Budget Stacks Up!" button to see the results of their choices. Did they push the date the budget breaks forward, enlarge or shrink government control, increase or decrease debt? After viewing their results, players can return to the main game screen and try again, changing their strategy for better effects.
Incorporated into lessons covering the federal budget, Budget Hero can help students understand the historical and current implications of the budget of the United States and gain simplified experiential knowledge about how the budget works and why taxes and programs are hotly debated. Note, however, that the game is dated. Published in 2012, it predates many recent developments in U.S. policy, and teachers should make sure to point this out to students before they play. On the other hand, this makes the game itself a historical artifact! Students could analyze it as a primary source capturing budget concerns leading up to the 2012 presidential election.
The game is also text-heavy. Students will need time and pre-game-play contextualization to get the most out of the wealth of information presented within the game. They can also benefit by exploring the contextualizing material provided on the game website, including information on the data grounding the game and supporting its projections and on how scoring functions.
Interested in more games that ask students to manage historically-important resources over time? Chevron's Energyville asks players to power a small city into 2030.