Online game lets students slash, tax their way to balanced budget

Don Kettl, dean of UM’s public policy school, said students thought the Budget Hero game legitimate partly because it used numbers and projections from the CBO, a trusted source, and not a partisan resource that reinforced certain budget priorities.

“They want these to be seen as numbers that haven’t been put together with any kind of spin,” he said. “You’re not saying to go wade through the president’s budget and see what you can learn. This is far more engaging.”

A public policy student asked Kettl during the Budget Hero session how he could beat the online game.

“I don’t know if you can win or lose,” Kettl responded. “I do know that there are people of all stripes who are willing to do all kinds of things [to balance the budget] even when the people who represent them draw these hard lines in the sand.”

Budget Hero, Tucker said, could help players conceptualize the giant numbers throughout a federal budget – an understanding that could lead to activism that would push policy makers to tackle deficit reduction in sensible ways.

“It’s the best kind of teaching tool, a simulation where people can make mistakes and learn from them,” she said. “They move from passive recipients of information to interactors with that information. That expands their understanding of the role they can play.”