Want To Learn Quantitative Easing? There's A Computer Game For That

Central banks around the world have created games that explain the sometimes wonky world of international finance and economics. NPR's Scott Simon talks to Jason Karaian, of the online magazine Quartz, about this surprisingly crowded genre.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

In the U.S., the Federal Reserve decided on Wednesday to wind down its quantitative easing, and keep short-term interest rates near zero. If that last sentence made your head spin, don't worry - there's a computer game for that. Actually, a whole slew of them.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: They're games created by central banks, from the ECB in Frankfurt to the Cleveland Federal Reserve. And, as you might tell from that theme music, they are not quite "Grand Theft Auto." Jason Karaian reviewed a few of these games for the online business news outlet Quartz. He joins us from the BBC in London. Mr. Karaian, thanks so much for being with us.

JASON KARAIAN: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: We heard the theme music to a game I believe is called "Economia."

KARAIAN: That's right.

SIMON: What's that game like?

KARAIAN: Sure. Well, this I think is actually the most sophisticated one. It's by the ECB, the European Central Bank. It's basically to teach you about you are the president of a central bank, you need to look at how growth is going, how unemployment is going and adjust interest rates accordingly. And so this game really tries to teach you how you do that and what it's like to be Mario Draghi, who's the current president of the ECB.

SIMON: What about a game called "Inflation Island"?

KARAIAN: "Inflation Island" is perhaps at the other spectrum. It's like one of these open worlds. Like you mentioned "Grand Theft Auto" before - there's a lot less violence in this. But you are on this island. You can set a dial of inflation anywhere from stable prices to deflation to high inflation. And then you just kind of wander around and talk to the islanders about how their lives are, given the movement in prices.

SIMON: Whatever the achievements of American technology at every level, is there a central bank game gap between the U.S. and other nations?

KARAIAN: The Federal Reserve in the U.S. has a few games. They're pretty simple, I would say. They're effective in a way but they are not, I think, as modern. And they do a job but perhaps something that wouldn't entice the future central bankers of tomorrow.

SIMON: Do you learn something from these games?

KARAIAN: I do. I learn a little bit. There's another game that the ECB created called "Top Floor," where you are charged with traveling up a series of elevators to the top floor of the ECB building. I did learn a lot about the interactions between national central banks and the ECB, for what it's worth, in playing this game. So, I suppose that's a job done. Would I rather play "Angry Birds"? Yes, of course. But I would probably not learn as much.

SIMON: Jason Karaian, senior Europe correspondent for Quartz. Thanks so much.

KARAIAN: Thank you.

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