Sunday, October 14, 2012

Budgeting for gamers

I've been playing a decent amount of XCOM on my Xbox this weekend and about half of the game is a lesson in opportunity cost.

In XCOM the player controls a planetary defense agency. Half the game is managing the XCOM agency and the other half is controlling a small team of soldiers in combat missions using the tools and resources the base has produced.

Resource management is crucial to running your base. The game offers way more cool projects to spend your time and resources on than you can fit in. You need satellites to detect alien ships, war planes to shoot them down, scientists to research new technologies and engineers to build advanced weapons and equipment. Do you assign your researchers to invent a new type of armor with a built-in grappling hook so your troops can scale walls, or do you have them research plasma rifles? Do you sink most of your budget expanding your satellite program to intercept more aliens, or do you purchase more scientific labs to speed along your research? Sometimes aliens attack multiple cities at the same time and you can only send your troops to save one. Do you choose the one that gives you money or an advanced assault trooper?

While the plots in a lot of games tend to reinforce left-wing views, I've seen plenty of games that provide a lesson that could help players be more fiscally responsible.

Too many people on the left look at potential programs individually and don't attempt to fit them into a larger budget. They think if a certain program could help fix a problem, than it must be good and chastises anyone who votes against it.

That kind of reasoning doesn't fly in game budgeting. If you're playing Magic: The Gathering your deck is allowed to have 60 cards minimum. Competitive players make their cards exactly 60 cards, and that always involved cutting a lot of good cards from the deck. The reason players do this is that those additional cards may be good, but they would make it harder to draw some cards that are even better. In effect your deck has a 60 card budget and competitive players typically do not go over that budget.

Tabletop war games like Warhammer and 40K have strict budgets that players have to follow. They agree upon a specific amount of points and each unit in the army they draft has a specific cost. Players have to make hard choices on which units to cut to remain under budget to build a strong fighting force.

These games do a service to players by providing a real lesson in opportunity cost and budgeting. Hopefully more players will make the connection between the way they run their XCOM base and a realistic way to run the country.

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