Science and Technology Innovation Program

Can You Balance the Federal Budget?

New Online Game Empowers Anyone to be America's "Budget Hero"

May 14, 2008

American Public Media and the Woodrow Wilson Center launch new "serious" game for public to weigh values and develop insight on managing the federal budget

(St. Paul, Minn.) May 5, 2008—On a recent episode of the U.S. television game show "Deal or No Deal," President George W. Bush made a highly unusual appearance and sought host Howie Mandel's help to deal with the federal budget in upcoming talks with Congress. President Bush can now turn to millions of Americans for this help as American Public Media, in partnership with the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, announces the launch of "Budget Hero"—an online game that lets citizens weigh in on where their tax dollars should go.

"Budget Hero is a new type of journalism that gives people the big picture on the complex and fragmented federal budget process. We created this news game to help Americans feel they can understand and participate in the national debate over the election, the budget and the direction of our country," said Michael Skoler, executive director of the Center for Innovation in Journalism at American Public Media. "It isn't easy to be a Budget Hero in the game. You have to stay true to the values you express in the first screen and create a budget that achieves your main goals without jeopardizing the fiscal health of the nation for your children and grandchildren."

As players choose from over 100 policy cards, they explore the pros, cons and social impact of the most important policy issues and choices facing our country. "Budget Hero" players get immediate feedback on their choices through a budget "skyline" that shows how their policies affect money for areas like defense, education and health care. They also watch as meters show them how their choices affect national debt, the size of government and the year the budget goes bust (when there's no money left beyond Social Security, health care and interest on debt. The game gives players an accurate yet simplified understanding of the federal budget.

"The saying ‘you can't understand until you walk a mile in someone else's shoes' best describes Budget Hero," said David Rejeski, who heads the Serious Games Initiative at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. "The game empowers players to take on the role of our government officials and allows anyone to try out their solutions and ideas on how to manage the federal budget."

Players can open up large categories of the budget and review "cards" that represent specific policy decisions. Players choose among the policy decisions by "playing" the card or cards that align with their values. So under Defense and Diplomacy, for example, a player may choose to pull all troops from Iraq by 2010, withdraw troops over five years, or stay the course in Iraq and add two new Army divisions.

Players can work to achieve a variety of financial and policy goals in the game. Financial goals might include balancing the federal budget by a certain year, eliminating the national debt or limiting the size of government by keeping it at a certain percentage of the Gross Domestic Product (or GDP, which measures the size of the economy). Policy goals might include providing universal health coverage, fully funding No Child Left Behind, or raising or lowering income taxes.

"Budget Hero is unique in that it provides the player with immediate feedback on how their choices affect the federal budget in terms of revenues, spending, deficit and debt, and the economic, societal and individual impact of their policy choices," added Skoler. "And the game collects the choices players make, as well as their comments, so our journalists learn how people think through the budget debate.

"Budget Hero" players can also compare how their policy choices and budgets stack up to other players across a wide range of demographic groups based on gender, income, age, political loyalty or region. American Public Media is also hosting an online discussion for players of "Budget Hero" on Gather.com.

American Public Media is offering the game to other public radio and television stations, and even commercial news organizations, as a widget that can be imbedded in a Web site, so these media groups can directly engage their audiences in the national political debate.

Additional support for "Budget Hero" has been provided by The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and the Richard Lounsbery Foundation.

To play "Budget Hero", visit www.marketplace.org/budgethero.org

About Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (www.wilsoncenter.org) is the living, national memorial to President Wilson established by Congress in 1968 and headquartered in Washington, D.C. The Center establishes and maintains a neutral forum for free, open, and informed dialogue. It is a nonpartisan institution, supported by public and private funds and engaged in the study of national and international affairs.

About American Public Media
American Public Media is the largest owner and operator of public radio stations, also producing top programs reaching more than 15 million listeners weekly. A complete list of stations, programs and additional services for the American Public Media national network can be obtained at www.americanpublicmedia.org.
 

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Experts & Staff

  • David Rejeski // Director, Science and Technology Innovation Program; Interim Director, Commons Lab
  • Todd Kuiken, Ph.D. // Senior Program Associate, Science and Technology Innovation Program
  • Aaron Lovell // Writer/Editor/Program Manager, Science and Technology Innovation Program
  • Eleonore Pauwels // Program Associate/Researcher, Science and Technology Innovation Program
  • Anne Bowser // Researcher, Data Science and Visualization, Science and Technology Innovation Program
  • Elizabeth Tyson // New Projects/Technology Scout, Science and Technology Innovation Program
  • Sharon Weinberger // Global Fellow
  • Piers Millett // Global Fellow
  • Mark Schaefer // Global Fellow