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  • Writer's pictureZack

I Taught With The Game of Life

What's going on everyone?

One of my favorite games to teach with is actually the classic tabletop game The Game of Life. You all probably know this game, but just in case you don't, it is a classic tabletop game originally created by Milton Bradley in 1860. Although, a large number of variations have been created over the years. The game simulates a person's journey through life, from college to retirement, with players making choices along the way that impact their career, financial status, and family life. Players move around the board accumulating wealth and life experiences. The objective is to amass the highest net worth by the end of the game.  You can find my lesson plan for The Game of Life here.

I currently teach high school seniors and we used this game as a part of our personal finance unit in my Economics class. There are different versions of the game that exist. We used a version where the rules are simplified and is easier to setup than the normal version of the game. I intentionally chose this version because I didn't want to waste too much time setting up the board each class day. You can find the version I used here.

The Two essential questions for this project were:

  1. How true to reality is The Game of Life’s portrayal of personal finance?

  2. How would you modify the game (rules, action cards, careers, etc) in order to make it a better representation of real life.

I wanted my students to take the knowledge of what they have learned about credit cards, medical care, budgeting, cost of children, savings, interest, retirement, debt, etc. and explain how they are represented, misused, or absent in the game. If something is misrepresented, or not even present, then they needed to offer a potential changes to the rules in order to make the game more realistic. This ultimately lead to an argumentative essay where they need to argue about how they would modify the game in order to make it a better representation of personal finance in real life.

Before we started playing the game, I spent an entire day with my classes only going over the rules. I teach a one hundred percent English as a new language population so I wanted to make sure that everyone had a proper understanding of the rules before jumping in. Again, the rules here are for this specific version of the game. You will need to modify this portion of the lesson if you end up using a different game. We also spent time reading about the different cards in the game. Even while just reading the rules, the students were also noticing factors in the game that don't financially make sense; like receiving $50k at the end of the game for each baby they had.

I broke my classes up into two or three groups. This version of the game is technically only up to four players, so I had students work in pairs. Each board had between four to eight students total. The first big decision the students needed to make was whether or not they were going to attend college. The students who wanted to attend college needed to pay $100K upfront and then proceed down the "College Path." Students who did not want to go to college did not need to pay anything and the begin on the "Career Path." Choosing to go to college does set those students back some money and it took them longer to begin earning money, but their jobs did have higher salaries. The students who pursed a career immediately received money more quickly in the beginning, but their salaries were lower. We had previously had many discussion about the cost of college and what it means to take on student debt. Most students still wanted to pursue the college education, but others were more hesitant because they did not want to have any student debt weighing them down.

We managed to finish playing the game over the course of two 90 minute periods. While they were playing, they were tasked with documenting aspects of the game that they felt were realistic and unrealistic. Some of the things students mentioned were realistic were

  • Taking a risk and investing money

  • Spending a lot of money on an education and earning a higher salary for having more education

  • Paying to go on vacation

  • Some players losing their jobs

  • Having an opportunity to go night school

  • Buying homes and selling them later on

  • Saving money for retirement

Some aspects of the game that they felt were unrealistic were

  • Earning money from the Action Cards even though you didn't really do anything to deserve it

  • Making money by having babies

  • No one pays taxes in the game

  • People obtain a new job right after being fired from their previous one even though it may take a while in real life to find a new place to work

After finishing the game, the students had to offer potential changes they would make to the game board or rules in order to make The Game of Life a better representation of real life. The prompts I provided them were

  1. What rules would you add, remove, or modify?

  2. What Action Cards would you add, remove, or modify?

  3. What Career Cards would you add, remove, or modify?

  4. What Spaces would you add, remove, or modify?

The most common aspect of the game that students wanted to change was the reward for having children in the game. The game actively encourages players to have children by rewarding them with $50K for each child. The students noted that it really isn't like that in real life at all. There may be some opportunities for tax credits in real life, but generally speaking you will be spending thousands of dollars each year on children. Adding spaces on the game's board for medical emergencies and taxes were two other popular changes that students wanted to make. Everyone pays taxes in real life and most of the students felt that should be incorporated into the game. Medical emergencies and health care are also very expensive in the United States. The noted that it would be odd to go through your entire life without ever needing to pay to go to the doctor or hospital.

This research aspect of the project forced students to think more closely about the changes they wanted to make in the game. They couldn't just add something for no reason. They needed to be very deliberate when making their modifications to the rules. Most of this evidence came out of the many articles we read over the several weeks before playing the game. They had plenty of prior knowledge ready to access.

We ended this project with an argumentative paper. Students were asked, "How would you modify the game (rules, action cards, careers, etc) in order to make it a better representation of real life." I'm attaching one example that a student wrote here.

As much as I love teaching with video games, tabletop are often an even more effective teaching tool. This Game of Life project was incredibly interactive and students were having a great time. That in combination with their learning made for a fantastic summative assessment to a personal finance unit. I do have one more blog post planned for this year. I teach a video games as literature elective English Language Arts class and we have spent the past semester on gaming journalism. So I will hopefully have a post about that up before the school year ends at the end of June.

Thanks for reading,


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