Marquina Marie Iliev-Piselli

Graduate and Professional Work

Masters Thesis – A Mobile Game Design to Facilitate Informal, Self-Directed Learning of Financial Literacy Topics in Female Low-to-Moderate Income Adolescent Populations ages 12-17

Bandillero: A Financial Literacy Game Design

A Mobile Game Design to Facilitate Informal, Self-Directed Learning of Financial Literacy Topics in Female Low-to-Moderate Income Adolescent Populations ages 12-17.

Marquina M. Iliev-Piselli (

Department of Mathematics, Science & Technology

Teachers College, Columbia University

New York, NY 10027 USA




Research suggests that low-to-moderate income females in middle school and high school do not receive an adequate introduction to the basics of financial literacy (Lusardi, 2010; Journal of Consumer Affairs, 2010). To address this need, this document outlines the design for the financial literacy mobile game, Bandillero. Bandillero facilitates informal learning of financial literacy topics via a mobile device. Informal learning is a loose category that encompasses learning forms that are neither formal (classroom instruction) nor non-formal (short courses, workshops, professional development) (Schugurensky, 2006). This game is designed to increase informal learning of financial literacy topics such as income, debt management, basic banking skills, and help adolescents learn how to avoid risky credit behavior. A game was chosen to allow our audience to be introduced to (and experiment with) these topics because games can encourage players to invest in new identities or roles, which, in turn, become powerful motivators for new and deep learning in classrooms and workplaces (Gee, 2003).

It is important to first reach adolescents ages 12-17, because teens need educational preparation to successfully manage their finances in adulthood and teaching this group could positively affect their choices as a young adult (Tennyson, 2001). Recent college graduates carry a considerable debt load and financial problems at the time when they have just begin working with starting salaries (Leach, 1999). Before students reach college, they need ample time and accurate information to prepare for the financial burden of a college education—those who lack this knowledge base face a significant access barrier to higher education (ACSFA, 2008). Student skills and motivation must be built in prior to senior high (Augenblick, 1985). In the recent past, this problem has been countered by the delivery of comprehensive, integrated financial information programs (ACSFA, 2008), but the effectiveness of these financial education programs is mixed (Fox & Bartholomae, 2008; Mandell, 2008). To better inform adolescents 12-17, this game design document focus specifically on increasing awareness of financial literacy topics and factors associated with risky credit behavior.

Risky credit behavior is defined as consumer credit practices that have the potential to damage future financial well-being. Examples of risky credit behaviors include holding credit card debt, delaying the payment of credit card bills, making less than full payment on credit card bills, and maxing out credit card limits (Lyons, 2008; Xiao, Tang, Serido, & Shim, 2009). In the absence of a comprehensive program, a mobile financial literacy game targeted at adolescents ages 12-17 may provide an opportunity for an informal introduction to understanding risky credit behaviors (Schmitz, 2010).

Technology-enhanced learning tools, such as mobile apps and games, can assist students when learning to apply new skills. Engaging and educational tools can support learning tasks and processes, serve to enhance learner motivation, and expand or ensure access to learning opportunities, particularly for low-to-moderate income populations (Way, 2010). It is important to recognize that financial behavior is a learned process rather than an event (Way, 2010). It will be useful to identify new ways that technology might be strategically employed to move pre-college adolescents gradually toward positive financial action. Way (2010) states that “when it is possible to work with individuals, [technology] may take the form of providing interventions tailored to the person’s stage of change.”

According to the President’s Advisory Council on Financial Literacy, college students in the United States do not have a good understanding of finance (PACFL, 2008). They recommend increasing education on such topics as personal finance and debt management. The PACFL study states that increasing financial education is particularly important because college students are heading into the workplace and adulthood faced with ever-increasing choices in financial services and products. By this stage, mistakes in college will have dramatic repercussions and can contribute to job loss, poor credit rating, bankruptcy, even homelessness (PACFL, 2008).

The financial literacy game Bandillero will fill this gap for the target demographic: female 12-17 year olds from low-to-moderate income backgrounds. The game will bridge the financial information access gap between low-resource communities and high-resource communities. Learning objectives include increasing informal learning of financial literacy topics such as income, debt management, basic banking skills, and helping adolescents learn how to avoid risky credit behavior. This document outlines the design for Bandillero; a financial literacy mobile game targeting low-to-moderate income females aged 12-17, with the purpose of increasing players’ basic banking and debt-management skills.

Problem Statement

The Need for Financial Literacy

The President’s Advisory Council on Financial Literacy 2008 Annual Report defines “financial literacy” as “the ability to use knowledge and skills to manage financial resources effectively for a lifetime of financial well-being” and defines “financial education” as “the process by which people improve their understanding of financial products, services and concepts, so they are empowered to make informed choices, avoid pitfalls, know where to go for help and take other actions to improve their present and long-term financial well- being.” The report states that this issue affects everyone and cannot be ignored.

Sallie Mae’s 2008 survey of how undergraduate students use credit cards revealed the importance of developing financial literacy. Growing numbers of young adults accrue significant debt before entering the job market (Sallie Mae Survey, 2008). There is a deficit of resources available for this younger, financially vulnerable population (Wong, 2010). Currently available resources include many web-based financial tools and calculators to help adults and parents handle finances, such as and, but not adolescents. Of the limited number of financial literacy resources for the 12-17 year-old demographic, those available are designed to create ‘brand awareness’ for a particular banking institution, such as Visa’s Financial Football: and Save! The Game a mobile game developed by MassMutual Financial Products!-the-game/id360805496?mt=8. These branded tools were created for marketing purposes, and without particular care for the ways in which adolescents learn or engage with meaningful digital media.  This lack of resources creates a large disconnect between the tools that are available and those that our target population is most likely to use for increasing their awareness of basic banking skills.

Prior studies have found that high school students are not receiving an adequate financial literacy education and have poor knowledge of basic banking skills. (Bakken, 1967; CFAJAMEX, 1991; HSR, 1993; Langrehr, 1979; NAEP, 1979). Mandell (1997) studied 1,509 high school seniors from 63 schools, and found financial literacy averaged 57% in the areas of income, money management, savings and investment, and spending. He concluded that students are leaving high school without the ability to make critical financial decisions affecting their lives.

The Journal of Consumer Affairs (2010) examined financial literacy among adolescents using the 1997 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. The survey revealed that financial literacy is low; less than one-third of young adults possess basic knowledge of interest rates, inflation and risk diversification. Financial literacy was strongly related to socio-demographic characteristics and family financial sophistication. Specifically, a college-educated male whose parents had stocks and retirement savings was about 45 percentage points more likely to know about risk diversification than a female with less than a high school education whose parents were not wealthy.

Target Audience

Urban youth, especially young girls ages 12-17 from low-to-moderate income families, are at risk of being negatively affected by their lack of understanding as it relates to financial literacy. Research shows that women are not as financially literate as men.  Financial literacy is higher for men, older individuals, those with bachelors’ degrees or more, and those with higher income. (Hung et al., 2009)

Gender and Financial Literacy

With respect to gender, research indicates that women are more risk averse than men in dealing with personal finances (e.g., Cohen and Einav 2007; Grable 2000; Grable et al. 2006; Hallahan et al. 2004) and that this aversion can have negative consequences in terms of earning capacity and investment behavior (Ford and Kent 2009; Pritchard et al. 2004). Some scholars suggest that educational methods socialize girls and boys differentially, resulting in such disparities.

Stereotypical characterizations of financial literacy and women’s money attitudes have created this view that women solely emphasize the role of money as important for buying things (Prince, 1989). The self-image of being a smart shopper (i.e. finding bargains) is gratifying (Prince, 1989). So is the purchase of products that enhance their present lifestyle (Prince, 1989). Although women are enthusiastic about their shopping experiences, they tend to be critical of their own money handling, and are more likely to seek advice in money matters. (Anthes, 2000) Furthermore, Capital One’s 2009 survey of high school seniors found that: Two-thirds (65.4%) of the male students rated themselves as “highly knowledgeable” about personal finance compared to less than half (49.2%) of the young women who participated in the survey.

Of the scarce available resources, fewer still have female characters, storylines or protagonists. As explained in the subsequent paragraphs, this lack of female characters does not encourage female engagement or play. Most of the simulations, games and other resources available to teach financial literacy incorporate male characters and male-oriented scenarios. For example, the U.S. Mint website has a downloadable lesson plan Alexander’s Coin Conundrum where students watch the choices made by a young boy as he spends money that he receives as a gift. The main character in the Cashflow game on the Rich Dad Poor Dad website is a male mouse that interacts with mostly male characters as they compete in various finance-related challenges. Even the educational programming related to financial literacy on Channel 13’s website is male-oriented. Their game, Bank it or Bust is a financial literacy learning simulation about a boy who has a summer job at a sporting goods store and is saving up to purchase a red car, i.e. ‘sweet ride’. Klein (1990) found that masculine software encourages competitiveness and gives girls a low sense of ownership. Girls tend to enjoy games that allowed more than one solution (Kantrowitz, 1994). Elementary school software tends to represent female characters in only 12% of the cases, and these characters confirm passive, stereotypical views of women (Weinman & Haag, 1999). Having fewer female characters in these games discourages female involvement and interest in financial topics (Lee et al., 2011). Programs are designed primarily for boys. Experiences with software are exciting for boys but produce anxiety for girls (Frenkel, 1990). This greatly influences the attitudes of girls toward video and computer games.

In addition, literature supports that girls have historically been underrepresented in video games (Williams et al., 2009) and engage in video game play less frequently than boys (Morris, 2010).  The results from a study of 150 games across 9 platforms showed that males, whites and adults are over-represented in games. These overrepresentations come at the expense of women, some minority groups, children and the elderly. Williams suggests that games and gender work as a cycle: games feature more males and so attract more young males to play. Those males grow up and are more likely to become gamemakers than women, perpetuating the role of males in game creation. Women constitute 38% of game players but only 15% of characters. They represent the most underserved audience demographic. Research on female gamers has found that female players in educational (DeJean et al., 1999), online (Taylor, 2006) and more general contexts seek out feminine, sexy and strong characters to play (Royse et al., 2007).  Future designers of personal finance games and simulations should make sure that they are as appealing to female learners as to male, so that women do not continue to miss out on what is arguably an important (though perhaps incidental) context for learning about reasoned risk taking.

Since there is evidence to suggest that females both have low financial literacy and are underrepresented in financial literacy games, the proposed game is designed with specific attention to design aesthetics favorable by girls. The game is not pink or overtly ‘girly’, and includes empowered and fun female protagonists, a non-competitive atmosphere, and multiple winning-scenarios.

Learning Goals

The mobile game Bandillero will be used to help adolescent girls aged 12-17 increase their exposure to financial literacy topics and apply what they learn in a game environment. The primary learning goal of playing Bandillero is to increase financial literacy in 12-17 year old adolescent females from low-to-moderate income households. Financial literacy is the ability to understand finance. More specifically, it refers to the set of skills and knowledge that allows an individual to make informed and effective decisions through their understanding of finances.

Bandillero is a game where adolescent girls can learn and practice using their new financial knowledge. Through trial-and-error, players learn to make informed financial decisions for their celebrity-client, and hopefully learn how they can make similar positive financial decisions in their own lives. To make informed financial decisions, it is important to have an introduction to the terms and applicable scenarios, as well as have time to practice playing-out those scenarios to either positive or negative outcomes.

The goals for Bandillero are:

  1. For players to learn financial literacy terms and topics
  2. For players to practice balancing a budget, sticking with their decisions, and following through even when there are financial consequences
  3. For players to apply this knowledge to help them manage their finances in their daily lives.

To WIN Bandillero, players must successfully learn to:

1. Pay more than the minimum credit card payment

2. Minimize credit card finance charges

3. Avoid all fees including bank overdraft, credit card late payment, and credit card over-limit

4. Make good annual percentage rate (APR) choices

Financially literate individuals have the ability to make informed financial decisions. The Bandillero game will introduce financial literacy topics and ask players to apply them in budget-balancing simulations in which learning may be effectively applied. For our target audience, the introduction of these financial literacy topics and application of them in a budget-balancing scenario will likely be new. Because games can encourage players to invest in new identities or roles, which, in turn, become powerful motivators for new and deep learning in classrooms and workplaces (Gee, 2003), Bandillero is an ideal way for our audience to be introduced to (and experiment with) these topics.

Literature Review

Income and Financial Literacy

Lower- income students are exposed to different pedagogies involving the use of computers in schools.  In a national survey of more than 4000 teachers, Becker (2000) found that students in lower-income schools used computers more often for repetitive practice while students in higher-income schools more often used them for sophisticated, intellectually challenging applications. This discrepancy reinforces the idea that low-to-moderate income individuals may have access to technology, but not be adequately trained to incorporate these technologies effectively into an applied learning curriculum. Without teachers to effectively teach financial literacy topics, it follows that parents and adolescents may search for digital resources to enhance financial literacy learning outside the classroom. Thus, a financial literacy game such as Bandillero can fill this gap. Learning via a mobile game can help address the knowledge gap because, even in the absence of financial literacy education in schools, parents and students can learn how to manage money.

There is evidence that, in the absence of formal financial literacy instruction, lower income individuals have the interest and ability to improve their financial situation. For example, a researcher named Lisa Dodson documented the lives of women living in poverty over many years, and told poignant stories about how, despite having little money, needy small children, and ‘no man to help,’ the women in her study found the strength to manage to survive financially (Dodson, 1998). In addition, a recent study of financial literacy among Canadians, Buckland also found that many low-income individuals learn to cope with very limited budgets and that, contrary to what one may expect, they had fairly detailed knowledge about government programs and banking services (Buckland, 2010). Both of these examples suggest that, if given resources and financial instruction, low-to-moderate income individuals can successfully navigate their finances.

Historically, the focus of financial education has been on preventing and addressing financial vulnerability (Way, 2010). A strategy to harness the potential of technology-based tools for financial education should instead be employed. The skills and understandings that underlie strengths of underserved populations are too often either not understood or discounted. Tisdell, who completed a national study of community-based financial literacy educators, recently proved the importance of this insight (Tisdell et al., 2010). They found that ‘drawing on the learners’ financial experiences’ was considered to be the most effective pedagogical practice used by the community educators.

New and emerging information and communication technologies, such as social networking sites, web forums, and social mobile-apps, provide ever-expanding opportunities for building on learners’ strengths and financial experiences and helping individuals learn from each other. More importantly, it is important to avoid the temptation to think of the personal finance ‘expert’ as the primary source of wisdom for personal finance education.

Advancements in new interactive media present an opportunity to leverage children’s interests and to expand their skills and knowledge (Shuler, 2007). A review of the literature on educational games yields several theoretical approaches for delivering courses and instruction. Bloom (1954) classification of learning domains, Harrow (1972) taxonomy of the psychomotor domain, and adult learning theory (Knowles, Holton, & Swanson, 1998) provide a framework for delivering instructional objectives via mobile devices. The cognitive domain focuses on mental skills, which learners achieve when they analyze their situation in a tutorial or game, make decisions about how to proceed, and actively engage in the instructional activity (Miller, 2002).  A game-version of a financial literacy program will facilitate the development of new skills because “games are an ideal medium for cultivating problem-solving expertise and for advancing background knowledge and literacy in young learners” (Chiong, 2009).

Available Resources

Learning can no longer be dichotomized into a place and time to acquire knowledge (school) and a place and time to apply knowledge (the workplace) (Gardner, 1991). Today’s population is flooded with more information than it can handle. Today’s 12-17 year olds (i.e. tomorrow’s workforce) will need to know far more than any individual can retain. Resources to support informal learning should provide effective educational opportunities and allow for the many learning-settings through which people pass, including home, school, work, and the larger community. Many currently available finance-related digital resources available are not up to par when it comes to informal learning for our target demographic. Most of the available resources target adults, often teachers (Financial Literacy Education and Policy: The Lay of the Land, 2010).


  1. represents a comprehensive collection of resources and information about personal finance available online from United States government agencies. However, the collection is primarily text-based, makes no provision for varying reading levels, does not provide any guidance on the quality of the information, and does not guarantee (in fact offers a disclaimer about) accessibility of resources for individuals with disabilities.
  2. The DC-based Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy is focused on reaching pre-K through college-age youth. The site provides access to state-level Jump$tart coalitions. The Resources section includes a Clearinghouse, national standards, best practices, and results of a financial literacy survey. This site is targeted toward teachers, not adolescents, and includes many downloadable resources that would be helpful in the classroom. In addition, it does not have any games or activities for adolescents to engage in or any links to resources that encourage informal self-directed learning.
  3. The Denver-based National Endowment for Financial Education provides materials for high school financial education, offers grants to organizations, and provides resources to consumers, among other activities—including the site Its CashCourse is available to colleges for free., conceived by NEFE’s CEO, is a kind of online confessional for stories of impulsive and wasteful spending. Again, this site is targeted toward adults, not adolescents themselves, and has nothing to support informal self-directed learning.
  4. The Beehive is provided by the One Economy Corporation whose mission focuses on improving the lives of the underserved through technology and information. One Economy is sponsored by many corporations and foundations. The Money section of the Beehive provides guidance, discussions, and online courses. It also offers a directory of counseling services by location. This site supports self-directed learning, but for adults and not our target demographic.
  5. The U.S. Mint offers a site called H.I.P. Pocket Change aimed at younger students. FTC offers the Money Matters site with a welcoming visual design. FDIC has a financial education program called Money Smart.  Money Smart is a set of CD-ROMs and does not reflect recent technological developments and research.
  6. The American Institute of CPAs has created 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy. The main organizing scheme is Topics, Life Stages, Tools, Ask the Money Dr., and My 360. AICPA also has a Financial Literacy Resource Center supporting financial literacy education by volunteering CPAs. This is a good resource, but does not incorporate any of the current research on DGBL.
  7. Teach Children to Save is an offering of the American Bankers Association including downloadable lesson plans CD-ROMs for teachers.
  8. Visa offers the Practical Money Skills for Life website. Major sections are: Credit & Debt, Saving & Spending, Life Events, and Expert Resources. These appear to primarily target K-12 students. The site includes curriculum materials for educators, games, and calculators. A related site is “everything you need to know about your credit.”
  9. The FINRA Investor Education Foundation conducted a 2009 National Financial Capability Study. It “established a baseline measure of the ability of Americans to manage their money” and included a national survey, a state-by-state survey, and a military survey. As a result of this study, FINRA funded the project aimed at college students. Its main organization scheme is: Understanding the Basics, Reaching Your Goals, and Making Investments.

Separately, one resource that may serve as a model for addressing the issue of informal learning is MedlinePlus (, the website on health issues sponsored by the National Institutes of Health and produced by the National Library of Medicine. Designed for lay users, the site does more than simply provide information; it has several built-in features that more deliberately support self-directed learning. For example, it provides interactive tutorials, videos, self-assessment tools, low-reading-level materials, guidelines, and it is designed to conform fully to web accessibility guidelines.  Developing a mobile game that includes the content from websites like this would be beneficial to informal learning. Bandillero will be designed in this way; incorporating currently available content (including relevant items for purchase, allude to real-world current band-related events, include recent information on APR, etc.) into a financial literacy game.

Besides providing more high-quality Internet and mobile-based resources for informal, self-directed personal finance learning, educators can also take specific steps to bridge the divide between teacher-directed and self-directed learning to nurture more of the latter outside of educator-developed interventions. Gibbons (2004) describes how this might take place. Educators can introduce self-direction in assignments, encourage learners to form their own judgments and craft solutions to complex problems, teach learners how to design their own plans or games for achieving teacher-developed learning goals and coach them as needed, and teach learners to formulate their own learning goals and plan how to work toward and evaluate them independently.

More strategic steps should be taken when designing personal finance education tools and strategies to accommodate the needs of diverse learners (including low-to-moderate income populations) and support informal learning. For example, we should consider how to ensure that learners are able to make meaningful use of technology-based personal finance education opportunities. Educators should be careful that historic biases related to factors such as gender, race, and socioeconomic background are not reinforced through application of technology-based personal finance education tools. Another consideration is in the area of potential bias among low-to-moderate income populations. Research suggests that lower-income students are exposed to different pedagogies involving the use of computers in schools (Way, 2010). In a national survey of more than 4000 teachers, Becker (2000) found that students in lower-income schools used computers more often for repetitive practice while students in higher-income schools more often used them for sophisticated, intellectually challenging applications. Unless such differentials are intentionally addressed, the potential of financial education to improve life quality among students from diverse backgrounds will not be achieved.

Access to Technology

Participation in continuing education throughout the lifespan is necessary to secure and maintain financial well-being (Way, 2010). Technology holds promise for realizing the vision of anytime/anywhere informal financial education targeted to specific needs. It expands possibilities for educational participation, supports diverse educational types, and provides more engaging approaches to teaching and learning. However, the extent to which this vision is realized will depend on access being gained or provided. Access is particularly important for underserved populations who historically have faced greater barriers to access. There are two kinds of access barriers:

  1. Access to the information and communications technologies themselves and
  2. The ability to make full use of information when they do have access.

Studies of Internet use by the Pew Research Center revealed that some of the historical gap in informational and communication access with reference to income, education, and race is closing. Recent data (Kang 2010; Rainie 2010; Smith 2010) indicates minority Americans lead mobile Internet access by using handheld devices such as smartphones. Mobile phone ownership is now higher among African Americans and English- speaking Latinos than among whites (87 percent compared to 80 percent) and these groups also lead whites in the use of mobile data applications, including accessing the Internet (46 percent of African Americans and 51 percent of English-speaking Hispanics use mobile phones to access the Internet compared to 33 percent of whites). However, some observers (Smith 2010) revealed that wireless/mobile access to the Internet should not be considered a replacement for hardwired access. Greater access to the Internet means greater potential for learning. Currently, mobile phones are not used extensively in schools, and are frequently banned. In addition, it is not possible to do many learning-related tasks such as word processing or spreadsheet manipulation on a mobile phone or smartphone at any location. Extensive Internet searching is also tedious on handheld devices, the upload/download time is slow and screen size is limited.

Making Access Meaningful

There is an access-related issue referred to as ‘the Digital Divide 2.0’ (Hoar, 2006).  This situation is where the issue is not just of ensuring access to the equipment, although this is still a problem for many individuals. Instead, it is more a question of ensuring that individuals are able to make access meaningful. Traditionally, personal finance educators have thought of vulnerable populations in terms of the kinds of financial strains they face. For example, chronic low income, disability, or ‘trigger events’ such as a health crisis, unemployment, divorce, or bankruptcy.  These are critical kinds of vulnerabilities that deserve attention. They certainly can be used to design content-specific instructional tools and strategies for particular groups of learners.  However, the ability to make meaningful use of technology should be considered a potential vulnerability among those interested in personal-finance-related learning. This kind of vulnerability does not represent a deficit on the learners’ part, but reflects limitations of instructional designs that have not adequately accounted for the nature of learners and how to best facilitate learning.  Several instructional design considerations have typically been overlooked in developing and selecting technology-based personal finance education materials and strategies:

1. Recognize how individuals learn can be unique

2. Be aware that learners may need supports in learning how to learn in addition to understanding and applying personal finance concepts.

3. Be aware that historical biases may be reflected in technology-based financial education tools and resources

4. Acknowledge that personal and social context matters in learning

5. Build on the aforementioned context, rather than ignoring or discounting its value.

Lack of attention to the considerations listed above can needlessly contribute to financial vulnerability by restricting individuals’ ability to take full advantage of financial education programs.

With this in mind, Bandillero was designed to fill in this digital divide. Increasing numbers of low-to-moderate income adolescents have access to mobile devices and smartphones. In addition, Bandillero was designed considering game mechanics and aesthetics specific to the target population, and considers how they would engage in gameplay. This consideration includes the aforementioned non-competitive atmosphere, multiple winning-scenarios, empowered and fun female protagonists, multiple information streams, quick gameplay, and popular old-school graphics. The game incorporates typical mobile-game mechanics, such as a touch screen, and wraps the financial literacy education within a fun story about being a financial manager for an 80s rock band. The scaffolding support within the game can assist players that are unfamiliar with having a bank account, using credit/debit cards, understanding APR, etc. The game is designed for play during ‘in-between’ times such as waiting in line, in-between classes, or sitting on the subway.

Digital Game-Based Learning (DGBL)

21st century digital literacy is heavily dependent upon socialization through digital technologies.  Game systems are a fundamental component of this system (Way, 2010), including financial literacy learning games such as Bandillero. The following are two different supports for the preceding argument; many digital game proponents have conducted research on how games can best be used for learning. The first involves the ongoing research heralding the power of DGBL, and the second involves how today’s adolescents, who have grown up using digital technologies, are considered to be ‘digital natives’. The result has been a small but growing body of literature on digital game-based learning (DGBL) as it embodies well-established learning principles, theories, and models. For years game researchers have tried to convince that DGBL could assist learning. The combined weight of three factors has resulted in widespread public interest in games as learning tools (Van Eck, 2006).

The first factor is the ongoing research conducted by DGBL proponents. Researchers have published dozens of essays, articles, and mainstream books on the power of DGBL—including, but not limited to, Marc Prensky’s Digital Game-Based Learning (2001), James Paul Gee’s What Video Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy (2003), Clark Aldrich’s Simulations and the Future of Learning: An Innovative (and Perhaps Revolutionary) Approach to e-Learning (2004), Steven Johnson’s Everything Bad Is Good for You: How Today’s Popular Culture Is Actually Making Us Smarter (2005), Prensky’s book “Don’t Bother Me, Mom, I’m Learning!”: How Computer and Video Games Are Preparing Your Kids for 21st Century Success and How You Can Help! (2006), and Games and Simulations in Online Learning: Research and Development Frameworks, edited by David Gibson (Battersby, 2008).  Articles such as these were the foundation for the Bandillero financial literacy game concept.

The second factor involves adolescents that have become today’s “Net Generation,” or “digital natives,” who have become disengaged with traditional instruction. They require multiple streams of information, prefer inductive reasoning, want frequent and quick interactions with content, and have exceptional visual literacy skills—characteristics that are all matched well with DGBL (Van Eck, 2006). The Bandillero game sufficiently satisfied these requirements. Information is gathered in various ways including an info screen, the band member/celebrity- client, and through trial and error. Inductive reasoning is required to perform budgeting-related tasks effectively. Gameplay is quick and scenarios frequently change, based on the players’ choices and visuals reinforce those choices and drive the storyline along.

The third factor is the increased popularity of games. Digital gaming was a $10 billion per year industry in 2005 (eSchool News Online, 2005), and in 2010, the industry has grown to nearly 16 billion (Essential Facts About the Computer and Video Game, 2010). The popularity of games alone will not ensure Bandilleros’ success, but we know that good games are inherently fun, and thus making a fun financial literacy game would enhance its popularity.

Motivation to Learn

Motivation, as a psychological term, usually refers to the initiation, intensity and persistence of behavior. In order to describe the motivational design in computer games, many variables must be taken into account. For example, variables concerning the player’s knowledge and skills, his or her gender, traits, experience with games, social status, but also inner psychological processes during the game (such as flow), and various design aspects of the game environment itself (Lee & Peng, 2006). Currently, there is no thorough and systematically convincing motivational theory that integrates all of these variables and their interrelations. However, it is argued that the content and one-sided social phenomena in games should be considered as important motivational aspects (Bateman, 2007; Gjedde, 2006; Hug 2005; Iuppa & Borst, 2007, XVIII).

We may speculate that digital technology can play an important role in motivating learners to engage and persist in personal finance education. Much more remains to be learned. Motivation theory has not been applied extensively to research on technology-based education (Denis and Jouvelot 2005; Dondlinger 2007), and it would not be appropriate to assume an over-arching positive impact. For example, some have suggested that not all learners will be equally motivated by technology-based educational games (Whitton 2007). Many are convinced that learning is not supposed to be fun or engaging (Prensky 2002), and that emphasizing use of technology in education will further exacerbate the digital divide, doing nothing to reach vulnerable populations (Selwyn et al. 2006). This will not be the case if financial education practitioners are mindful of the principles of motivation, per above, as well as issues associated with accessibility issues; which will be addressed in the following section. Although a good deal of attention has been given to the ways that technology can support and enhance learning tasks and processes, dimensions of motivation and accessibility have been given less attention, and these seem especially relevant for serving the needs of populations experiencing financial and other vulnerabilities.

One problem in designing educational interventions for both adolescents and adults is getting learners interested in participating, and ensuring they maintain that interest to the end. This is referred to as the challenge of learner motivation (Schunk et al. 2008). There is widespread belief that digital technology can help with motivation, although it is not yet completely clear how.

One of the most comprehensive and empirically supported theories of motivation, self-determination theory, offers some insights that may be useful in thinking about how technology may enhance motivation to engage in personal-finance-related learning. Self-determination theory, proposed by Deci and Ryan (1985, 1991) suggests that there are three basic innate, psychological needs that motivate behavior. These needs are competence, autonomy, and relatedness. Competence is the need to feel capable when interacting with others, completing tasks and activities, and with the larger context. Autonomy is the need to feel a sense of agency over interactions within one’s environment. And relatedness is the need to feel a sense of belonging to a group. Vansteenkiste (2008) suggests that though these needs inherently drive individuals toward growth, people need nurturing in order to realize their potential. Without nurturing, there are negative consequences. In this way, factors in the educational environment that restrict an individual’s natural tendency to be self-determining (e.g., tasks that are too difficult or easy, lack of choice or inability to pursue interests, threats, or social isolation) will interfere with positive growth.

Csikszentmihaly (1985, 1997) and Csikszentmihaly and colleagues (2005) developed a related theory of emergent motivation and the concept of ‘flow’.  They studied the characteristics of individuals who were totally immersed in experiences—those who were ‘into the zone.’ Emergent motivation is discovering new goals and rewards as a consequence of engaging in the activity, and ‘flow’ is becoming completely involved in an activity, even to the point of losing a sense of time and self. It is important to note that this notion of ‘flow’ is not the same thing as ‘going with the flow.’ ‘Going with the flow’ suggests acquiescing control to something that feels natural. In emergent motivation, ‘flow’ is something that requires skill, expertise, and perseverance, not just feeling good (Schunk et al. 2008). Yet, feeling good about the learning experience, or having fun with it, has also been linked empirically with intrinsic motivation and learning (e.g., Bisson and Luckner 1996; Malone 1987; Parker and Lepper 1992; Prensky 2002). Using self-determination theory as well as the concepts of emergent motivation and ‘flow’ as a backdrop, it is not surprising that personal finance practitioners are recognizing the potential of games and simulations as sources of motivation for learning (Bank Fiesta 2010).

While playing Bandillero, players can experience ‘flow’ by the losing themselves in the exciting 80s band financial manager storyline. They will become personally invested in the happiness and financial success they create for bands they manage. Each of the three band management levels has 8 mini-rounds where the player encounters purchase requests from the band. These purchases may be for electronics, mp3 players, designer clothing, DVDs, sneakers, luggage, diamond earrings, cell phones, watches, purses, computers, stereo systems, pool tables, and a piano. During these mini-rounds, the band may announce they have purchased an unexpected item, such as an orphanage for abandoned kittens. Effectively dealing with these unexpected purchases is an important element of the game. In addition, there may be times when surprise items drop across the screen. These items help the player win the game by either adjusting the credit card limit, lowering the APR, or by adding funds to the account (i.e. the band may receive royalties from a released song in the form of $4000 falling across the screen). At set intervals during the game, there are moments where the player learns about APR before being required to apply this knowledge to gameplay. The new elements are introduced at times when it is appropriate to the story. There is a Help button that provides additional information relevant to the players’ achievement level within the game. This Help button is accessible at any time, and has relevant information for that specific player based on the skill that he or she has thus far demonstrated in the game. After the requests are made, the play screen appears where items that could potentially be touched (purchased) slide down across the screen. The speed of these items increases (difficulty to touch) as the levels increase. If the player touches items, they must then decide how to pay for them (Debit or Credit) on the next screen. Gameplay is fast and the storyline moves forward at an aggressive clip. Being the manager of an 80s rock band is exciting, but requires the players’ full attention or else they will miss a band members’ item request or forget to pay a bill. In terms of the actual game mechanics, the touch motion used to gather requested items is fluid and encourages flow.

Typically, learning in educational contexts occurs due to a mix of both extrinsic and intrinsic motivation (Bop, 2008). Sometimes students have a particular interest in the topic, or they are motivated by a general curiosity, achievement motivation, etc., which leads to intrinsic motivation (Bop, 2008). Since Bandillero includes an exciting storyline about keeping an 80s rock band financially on their way to success, players of our target age and gender demographic will be intrinsically motivated to play the game. The quick pace, incremental change, and gradually increasing difficulty of Bandillero will also encourage intrinsic achievement motivation. Moreover, since Bandillero is designed to be ‘fun’ and ‘cool’, our target demographic will be motivated extrinsically and share this knowledge with their peers because learning often occurs in order to gain social acceptance or avoid social disadvantages (Bop, 2008).

Instructional Design Considerations for the Varied Ways People Learn

The way individuals learn may vary according to a number of factors, such as past knowledge and experience, access needs including any physical or sensory disabilities, motives for learning, prior experience of learning with the specific technology, preferred learning style, social and interpersonal skills, and confidence and competence in using information and communication technology (Beetham 2007). One approach to considering such differences in designing educational resources and strategies is to begin the process expecting that there will be a diverse set of learners with varying skills and abilities. The concept of universal design originated in architecture with the passage of policies mandating physical accessibility in public spaces. When architects began incorporating such features as ramps, wide doorways, and elevators into buildings, they discovered that they benefited not just those for whom the features were originally intended—individuals with disabilities—but others as well, such as delivery people, parents with strollers, and the elderly.

Universal design for learning (UDL) (Rose and Meyer 2002) makes the same assumption; everyone will benefit from educational designs that incorporate accessibility features. According to UDL, we can accomplish this by ensuring that instructional tools and resources incorporate multiple means of representing information (e.g., text, graphics, sound, animation), multiple means of expression (e.g., alternative ways to reveal learning such as verbally or through writing or demonstration), and multiple means of engagement (e.g., by offering choices of content and tools and adjustable levels of challenge).  There are, of course, a number of assistive technologies for individuals with disabilities (e.g., Dell et al. 2008), such as screen reader software using synthesized speech to verbalize text, Braille terminals that render text as Braille characters, screen magnification software to enlarge the displayed on the computer monitor, speech recognition software that accepts spoken commands to the computer, and keyboard overlays to make typing easier. These accessibility tools can certainly enhance web access for individuals with disabilities, yet educators should also be aware that web design features affect the ability for people to make use of them. The Web Accessibility Initiative’s (2008) Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 offer recommendations meant to enable all users to have equal access to information. Extensive research on multimedia design in learning is available to inform the UDL principles for providing multiple means of representing information, which can be applied in a personal finance context.

Related to UDL, Richard Mayer (2005) and other researchers founded Multimedia Learning Theory. Mayer found that students engaged in learning that incorporated multimodal designs exhibited greater achievement, on average than students who learned using traditional approaches with single modes.  They developed a set of principles that include the following ideas:

1. Multimedia Principle: Learners will retain more through words and pictures than through words alone.

2. Spatial Contiguity Principle: Learning will be enhanced when words and pictures are presented near each other rather than far from each other.

3. Temporal Contiguity Principle: Learning will be enhanced when words and pictures are presented simultaneously rather than successively.

4. Coherence Principle: Learning will be enhanced when there are no extraneous words, pictures, or sounds.

5. Modality Principle: Animation and narration will support learning to a greater degree than animation and on-screen text.

6. Redundancy Principle: Redundancy will interfere with learning (that is, if information is represented in more than one modality).

7. Individual Differences Principle: Design effects will be greater for low-knowledge learners than for high-knowledge learners.

8. Direct Manipulation Principle: The impact of direct manipulation of the learning materials (e.g., animation, pacing) on transfer of learning will increase as the complexity of the materials increases.

Of the eight principles above, Bandillero incorporates each one; the game encourages knowledge retention because it relies heavily on the words and pictures in the storyline to convey new information, the information is presented simultaneously and without any extraneous images or sounds, the graphics will demonstrate ‘learning by doing’ instead of requiring players to read a lot of on-screen text, information will not be redundant because it is presented slightly different each round, if a player wants to skip the storyline wrapped around gameplay they may do so and advance straight into the financial choices and activities, and direct manipulation such as the choice of job or ‘gig’, what to purchase and how to divide up the budget will increase as the complexity of the information and financial scenarios advances.

Besides these multimedia design principles for representing information, there are several other practices that provide multiple means of engagement and expression for personal finance learning. Educators, for example, should consider using multiple channels to present content (e.g., Internet chat, participation in an online game,, applicable mobile games), use varied materials and resources (e.g., online text resources or financial applications, YouTube videos, podcasts), provide cognitive supports (e.g. outlines and summaries in audio as well as textual form to scaffold learning), and provide opportunities for practice by making learning materials and opportunities available at flexible times and places (e.g., open-access web pages, discussion boards).

In terms of the design for Bandillero, we assume that the player has zero prior knowledge of the financial topics presented in the game.  Since we have established that our target demographic is already playing games, we can use the financial-based storyline and gameplay in Bandillero to teach more members of our target demographic to become financially literate. The game may be fast-paced, but the multiple and varied ways one can win the game will boost girls’ confidence and competence in using their newly acquired information and apply it to effectively win the game.

Informal, Self-Directed Learning

Studies conducted in the 1970s (Tough 1971, 1979) revealed that more than one-thirds of adults’ intentional learning occurred in an informal context; in places such as the home and workplace. There is evidence that this level of effort devoted to informal learning continues today. For example, a recent study of Canadian adults, Livingstone (1999, 2001) found, that participation in informal learning activities outpaced participation in instructor-led courses by a ratio of at least five to one. The research also revealed that 80 percent of study participants averaged five hours per week in informal learning related to household matters, including budgeting. A majority of the respondents (87 percent) in Hira and Loibl’s (2008) national study of investment behavior (n = 911) indicated they enjoyed learning new things about investing and preferred to do so either by talking with ‘knowledgeable others’ one on one (87 percent) or by doing their own research (75 percent).

It is presently unknown how many young people engage in informal learning related to personal finance. The fact that 65 percent of young adults age 18–29 use mobile devices to access the Internet (Hadhazy 2010) and 27 percent of teenagers do (Lenhart et al. 2010) means there is great potential for it. It follows, that designing the game Bandillero to facilitate informal learning using a mobile device has an opportunity to impact financial well-being among both youth and adults.

This opportunity can be realized in two ways. One is by making high quality resources available through the Internet, or mobile devices, to facilitate self-directed learning among individuals with a variety of learning needs, styles, and challenges. Ideally, this would also give attention to helping learners understand how to assess the quality of information that is available about personal finance topics. The other way is to help educators engaged in providing formal and informal personal finance education bridge the historic divide between teacher-directed and self-directed learning.  Web-based resources will be an essential resource for both approaches, but research suggests that mobile apps and games will be increasingly beneficial to extend the ‘reach’ of informal learning. In this project, Bandillero is intended to facilitate self-directed learning among individuals. Yet, at future iteration of the design could be developed alongside educators so Bandillero could be played within the context of a broader financial literacy curriculum.

For students, self-directed learning has historically been an online experience. Like many other knowledge workers, students have embraced internet search, with a majority of students relying upon web materials as their primary – and often sole – source of information for learning (e.g., Graham & Metaxas, 2003). While students may be enthusiastic, studies suggest that they are often not very effective in their use of internet search to support their learning and research, even when students self-rate their technical skills very highly (Stone and Madigan, 2007; Graham & Metaxas, 2003). Many students experience difficulties in locating appropriate resources, evaluating the applicability and scientific accuracy of resources, determining which portions of resources are relevant to the task at hand, and integrating multiple sources of information with their own developing knowledge (Quintana, Zhang, & Krajcik, 2005).

Butcher and Sumner argue that self-directed learners need assistance to make sense of the information presented (Butcher and Sumner, 2011). They argue that educative sense-making needs of self-directed learners can be supported by cognitive personalization tools. An example would be presenting personalized information to assist the learner based on their needs. These tools support student learning by matching students with sets of educational resources that they, as individual learners with a unique profile of prior knowledge and misunderstandings, need in order to develop a more complete and coherent understanding of the topic at hand (Butcher and Sumner, 2011). Bandilleros’ storyline and gameplay design does effectively provide such resources at appropriate times throughout the game via the previously mentioned Help button in the lower left corner of the screen. In this manner our target population can choose to learn more about a topic to achieve the next level with a higher score.

‘Learning With’, Rather than ‘Learning From’

In the past, games have been categorized as learning machines within the behaviorist theoretical perspective (Driscoll, 2000). Skinner’s (1971) behaviorist theory recommends conditioning to teach learners information, but conditioning and rote memorization is not the best way to holistically teach complex financial literacy topics. When games like Bandillero are more complex it is important to look beyond Behaviorism as a way to teach new topics.

Jonassen and Reeves (1996) have made the distinction between ‘learning from’ and ‘learning with’ technology. The ‘learning from’ perspective is grounded in a behaviorist view of learning (e.g., Skinner 1971, 1974; Thorndike, Bregman, Tilton, and Woodyard, 1928) in which learning is seen as a matter of transferring information from the medium so that it is absorbed by the learner (Hayes 2000). Sometimes also referred to as the ‘banking’ model of education, this model’s primary goal is to promote acquisition of basic knowledge and skills, and it prescribes a more passive role for the learner. The educator (if there is one in the picture) becomes a manager of typically predetermined content and activities. The ‘learning with’ perspective is grounded in constructivist learning theories (e.g., Dewey 1938; Lave 1988; Mezirow 2000; Piaget 1966; Vygotsky 1978) in which learning is viewed as the active construction of knowledge through one’s interaction with the environment and with others. The goal is for learners to discover and construct their own meanings, and the role of the educator (if, again one is in the picture) is as a facilitator of learning (Merriam et al. 2007). Thus, it follows that a learner-centered, ‘learning with’ (constructivist) rather than a ‘learning from’ (behaviorist) perspective should be the foundation for technology-based financial education efforts.

In Bandillero, players are financial managers for a rock band. The player gets positive reinforcement by making their client (the band) happy. The band members will be happy if the player keeps them out of debt. Positive reinforcement will teach the learner that he or she made the correct choice (i.e. saved money and paid off debt), while punishing reinforcement will aid in the elimination of incorrect behavior (i.e. The Band Happiness meter will go from happy to anxious). Information is divided into manageable chucks, and more complex information is introduced later in the game. In addition, task difficulty increases as the game progresses. At any point during the game, players can click the Help button to access additional resources tailored to their level of gameplay.

Positive and negative reinforcement are essential game mechanics often discussed in light of the concept of scaffolding, i.e., external guidance provided to extend one’s capacity within his/her zone of proximal development, until he/she can do the task on their own. Data indicates that scaffolding support increases the level at which puzzles can be solved, and decreases frustration resulting from excessive numbers of retries (Sun, 2011).  In the Bandillero game design, the Help button provides individualized scaffolding support. However, it may increase reliance on this scaffolding tool, which is disadvantageous for learning (Way, 2010). Providing players with critical features and demonstration scaffolds at the same time increases reliance on available support for some players, but for most it encourages the development of solving strategies. In the game, Bandillero uses scaffolding tools, such as the contextually-relevant Help button resources and leveling, to reduce player frustration. The bands inform and offer information to the players if they are not collecting items or saving money properly, but it is up to the player to decide whether or not to apply that information correctly. There are three levels and three bands to manage within the game. With the first level, with the first band to manage, the player has a short tutorial about how to play, and then they are off to manage the bands’ finances.  If the player does not play well, they will not advance to the second level, to be the financial manager for the second band. At the end of the first level, if they player did not save enough money and the first band is in debt, they will see a short explanation of what happened and be able to restart the game from the beginning. If the player advanced to level two, but could not handle the more difficult finances, they will view a tutorial about the additional material in level two before restarting the level. Same thing for level three; if the player advanced through levels one and two, but could not handle balancing the budget and finances in level three then they will view a short video explanation about how to do better, and restart at level three.

Engagement and Games

Video games and virtual worlds excel at engagement (McGonigal, 2011). As evidence of this, 28 million people harvest their crops in Farmville on a daily basis (Mashable, 2010), and over five million people play World of Warcraft for more than 40 hours per week (Blizzard, 2010). On the other hand, the default environment of school often results in undesirable outcomes such as disengagement, cheating, learned helplessness, and dropping out. Most students would not describe classroom-based activities in school as playful experiences. Clearly, the existence of game-like elements does not translate directly to engagement.

Gamification and Education

Current research by Joey J. Lee and Jessica Hammer notes that games and game-like elements are beginning to affect our real-world interactions (Lee et al., 2011). Gamification, defined as the use of game mechanics, dynamics, and frameworks to promote desired behaviors, has found its way into domains like marketing, politics, health and fitness (Lee et al., 2011). Analysts predict that it will become a multi-billion dollar industry by 2015 (MacMillan, 2011). Some visionaries, like game designer Jesse Schell, envision a kind of gamepocalypse, a hypothetical future in which everything in daily life becomes gamified, from brushing one’s teeth to exercise (Schell, 2010)

Thus far, gamification has most-frequently been used as a clever way to promote a business or product (Lee et al., 2011). For example, in the mobile game FourSquare, players earn badges, discounts, and other rewards for visiting real-world locations and “checking-in” to them via the mobile app. Games can be a great way for people to explore serious issues; games designed to explore serious issues are, quite naturally called, serious games. Games can make the exploration of serious issues fun, even addicting, according to Scapoose, OR sophomore Ashley Amick, who played PeaceMaker at school. “I never wanted to go to my next class, because I hadn’t won yet, and I wanted to see what would happen when I did,” she explains. “We usually learn from textbooks or worksheets, but because you automatically learn while you play it, even my classmates that don’t like school had fun” (Burak, 2005). In the paper, Gamification in Education: What, How, Why Bother? Joey J. Lee and Jessica Hammer note that games designed to promote positive lifestyle changes are starting to appear (Lee et al., 2011). For example, Chore Wars and EpicWin encourage players to complete daily chores, while websites like Google Powermeter can encourage household reductions in energy consumption through the use of progress bars and collectible badges (Lee et al., 2011).

The space of educational intervention reflects the decisions that are made by educators and learners about how they wish to employ or engage with financial education tools, resources, and strategies. Educational interventions may take place in formal, informal, and nonformal settings and are potentially ongoing throughout the lifespan. Technology can assist in achieving educational goals, but it cannot be expected to determine them; nor should it be permitted to drive them. This paper began with a discussion of behavior theories – specifically motivation and self-determination theory – which offer insights in identifying optimal strategies for designing and supporting financial literacy education materials. These theories suggest that behavior emerges as a result of individuals’ characteristics, as well as societal and interpersonal (community/organization and policy systems) factors. Behavior theories can be categorized in terms of the emphasis given to how individual, interpersonal, community or organization, and policy or system characteristics affect behavior. These represent potential ‘units of practice’ (Way, 2010) for the educational interventions (e.g., games, online text resources or financial applications, YouTube videos, podcasts), and we should focus on studying how our interventions affect each aspect.

Game Design

Bandillero Game Storyline

The Bandillero game storyline is loosely based on the 80s children’s cartoon Jem and the Holograms (Jem). Jem was #1 Nielsen rated syndicated cartoon show in November 1986 and in 1987 it was the 3rd most watched children’s program in syndication with 2.5 million viewers weekly (TV Licensing Changes Channels To Avoid Program Overflow, 1987).  The shows’ popularity for all ages, including the fact that the main characters were female, is the basis for the girl band/celebrity-related storyline. The Jem-style characters are celebrity-like, and the attention-getting power of celebrities has been recognized for a long time (Hallahan, 2000). People adore celebrities, yet are also disgusted by them for being over-privileged, and irresponsible (Breese, 2010). Since people know that celebrities are notoriously irresponsible, it makes sense that even an adolescent with no prior financial knowledge can play the game and try various ways to improve the celebrities’ finances. Even if the player does not make perfect decisions each time, there will be multiple opportunities throughout the game to get the budget back on track. Learning financial literacy information, handling an others’ erratic spending behavior, and successfully helping celebrities keep a balanced budget are key elements in the game.

Bandillero is an old-school 80s style game. This style is making a comeback, per recent 80s game re-releases such as Mario Brothers, Pac-Man, and The Legend of Zelda (Nostalgia Trip With An Old Friend, 2011), as well as the remake of many classic computer role- playing games (Classic Games in the Making: Old-School RPGs Are New Again, 2011). What does old school mean? When it comes to Bandillero, it means the use of some easy-to-incorporate, yet semi-obsolete, graphic qualities including blocky textures, and semi-washed out colors. Bandillero is also old-school in that it purposefully makes the player go back to the same areas over and over again, if they are not completed successfully. The game will make players balance and rebalance the celebrities’ budget multiple times. It also incorporates timed challenges that can make the player repeat 10 minutes of tricky gameplay. Unlike many other games, Bandillero is quite linear. While there are some choose-your-scenario decisions, such as deciding the job or ‘gig’ for the band, players are generally bound to one critical path through the game. For these reasons, the Bandillero game design is intentionally simple as this ‘old school’ style has proven to be engaging and currently en vogue.

Content Analysis – How to Play

Bandillero is a financial literacy mobile game that is both entertaining and educational. Bandillero has been made for females from low-to-moderate income families, ages 12 to 17. The game is designed to assist students’ self-directed learning of financial literacy topics such as income, debt management, and basic banking skills. In this fun mobile game, players become the financial manager for a 80s-style rock band (i.e. performing music group) —The Holographics, The Stingerz, and The Mismatched. The player is ‘hired’ as the financial manager for the band. The band members start out as slightly erratic spenders, but their requests become more lavish as their popularity skyrockets. The player must try to appease their client without breaking the bank. Towards the end, the final band encounters economic hardship but continues to spend lavishly beyond their means. How the player handles the ups and downs of being the band financial manager determines if he/she completes the game successfully or is fired. If the player successfully completes his/her stint as the band manager for all three bands (This indicates three levels of gameplay), they complete the game and can submit their score to the Winners list. The player can technically win by keeping the bands finances in order, but they may not receive the highest score. To achieve a higher score, players must not only keep the budget balanced, but also balance out the happiness level of the band. Tips on how to achieve these goals can be accessed via the Help button. The band will want many things, and the player needs to decide what items will make the band the most happy, while sticking to their budget and paying off debt. Players must effectively use a bank account, debit card, and credit card to be successful. While focused on fun, the game’s explicit learning objective is to increase financial literacy. The goals of the Bandillero game that address the learning goals are:

1. Paying more than the minimum credit card payment

2. Minimizing credit card finance charges

3. Avoiding all fees including bank overdraft, credit card late payment, and credit card over-limit

4. Making good annual percentage rate (APR) choices

Throughout the game, in the lower left of the screen, there is a Help button where players can access additional resources. By clicking the Help button, players will be directed to a screen where they can more about the topics presented during their level of gameplay. The available resources will be different depending upon the players’ ability. They adjust accordingly, and are always contextually relevant based on the players’ currently expressed knowledge, ability and advancement in the game. In this way, self-directed learning is supported as learners may choose to read more about a financial topic and thus improve their score in the game. Players have the choice to learn either by trial and error, or to read the additional resources to find ways to improve their bands’ financial standing and happiness rating.

Platform Choice

Why a Mobile Game?

Raising interest in personal finance is now a focus of state-run programs in countries including Australia, Japan, the United States and the UK (Taking Ownership of the Future, 2006). For over five years, educators and researchers have been creating web-based resources to help address this issue. Besides online games and simulations, other applications of digital technologies have the potential to enhance motivation for learning in the area of personal finance. Mobile apps and games have potential because they foster a sense of competence and autonomy. Playing a mobile app or game is an informal, non-credit learning activity, and provides a broader choice of content and time flexibility (supporting need for autonomy). Mobile devices such as ‘smartphones’ allow access to information from any location. One may attend to tasks continuously over time regardless of physical location, and make use of time that would have otherwise been wasted (facilitating competency). Instead of raising interest in financial literacy via the web, we should design and deploy engaging finance-related games via mobile platforms. Mobile platforms may be more effective because of their increased use among the target population; thus we can deliver more recent and engaging content more frequently.

Mobile usage has increased dramatically in the past decade. In the 2010 Neilson Apps Report The Rise of Apps Culture, “Fully eight in ten adults today (82%) are cell phone users, and about one-quarter of adults (23%) now live in a household that has a cell phone but no landline phone.” Mobile devices have become increasingly popular and 35% of cell phone users have downloaded at least one “app” (The Rise of Apps Culture, 2010). Mobile devices are quickly becoming the predominant platform for entertainment and communication between young adults in the US. While mobile gaming is a prominent activity among 12 to 17 year-olds (as 48% use a cell phone to play games, Lenhart, et al., 2008) and urban minority girls in this age group are likely to play games on these devices (Purcell et al., 2010), girls in this population are most likely to use mobile devices for maintaining social communications (Lenhart et al., 2008). Because this population is already familiar with mobile devices and using them to play and communicate, we must find a way to use this popular platform (mobile devices) and popular medium (games) to achieve learning objectives, such as increasing financial literacy education.

The question is not “What can technology do for us?” but “What will we do with increased access to new and emerging technologies?” Using a game to assist the learning process saves materials, time and money compared to a traditional classroom setting. Entrepreneurs and developers have entered the mobile market and “new networks focused on developing apps for kids have emerged to support the creation of high-quality apps for children (Chiong, 2010) Kids mainly play games with mobile devices, while parents use these devices for a variety of uses. (Chiong, 2010) Learners must have adequate access to the technology; either a computer or mobile platform. Based on the literature designing mobile games to support informal learning, and making design decisions about these games informed by the target audience, is a natural next step.

The first iteration of the Bandillero game will be an iPhone/iPad app. The iPad uses the same code base as the iPhone, and it is simple to program for both iPhone and iPad simultaneously, thus creating accessibility across both devices with only one set of code. The programming language for iPhone, Objective C, and the Apple Developer Network are much easier to use for the design and distribution of a game than the Android or Blackberry platforms. In addition, the iPhone/iPad is the easiest platform in which to create touch-screen interactive elements, as well as being able to upload a library of documents and videos.

In addition, the iPhone/iPad platform was chosen because of its widespread use within a slightly older population, as 65 percent of young adults age 18–29 use mobile devices to access the Internet (Hadhazy 2010) and the Apple iPhone was the most popular with 40% of those who reported owning a smartphone using one of the iPhone models (Dean, 2011), but mostly because it is a technically achievable platform for distributing a smartphone app or game. Our target demographic is familiar with this platform, though there was no percentage available about how many low-to-moderate income females aged 12-17 has access to iPhones. As previously mentioned, recent data (Kang 2010; Rainie 2010; Smith 2010) indicates minority Americans lead mobile Internet access by using handheld devices such as smartphones. In addition, many school districts are considering iPads to integrate into their curriculum (Warner, 2011), so this device will continue to gain familiarity and popularity among our target demographic.

Bandillero, a Financial Literacy Game

Can an engaging mobile game be used to both teach the fundamental Financial Literacy concept of income & debt management, and change Financial Behavior (Hung et al., 2009) among the target demographic (young urban females ages 12-17 from low-to-moderate income households) who are, according to the PACFL (2008), ‘at risk’ of economic hardship due to inadequate Financial Education? Bandillero, a mobile game for providing informal Financial Literacy instruction to young urban minority girls, will be developed to provide a mobile experience for engaging in and learning about fundamental banking skills.  Specifically, the game is designed to provide instruction on such critical basic financial topics as judgment and decision-making based on income and expenses and debt literacy (Lusardi & Tufano, 2008). The Bandillero mobile game incorporates the social communications aspect of mobile computing that are successful among the target population with game mechanisms (challenges, goals, reinforcement, and safe play space (Deterding, 2011)) that will make instruction of Financial Literacy an engaging, motivating, and fun experience (Deterding, 2011).

Bandillero is designed to develop Financial Knowledge through active money management and Financial Skills in a mobile game. Challenges are explicitly stated during interactive sessions and participation is reinforced through goal attainment. In the Financial Literacy literature it is often stated that the goal of financial literacy is to improve Financial Knowledge such that the individual will change her or his Financial Behavior (PACFL, 2008; Hung et al., 2009).

Bandillero Game Rules

Bandillero is a game where you become the financial manager for three 80s rock bands; The Holographics, The Stingerz, and The Mismatched.  Gameplay involves money management for 80s retro-hip, cartoon-style girl-bands because this is content that interests our target audience; adolescent girls between 12-17. The context in which the game is set: money management for a band-client makes sense for this demographic as well. The game story is based on the popular 80s cartoon Jem and the Holograms. Currently, there is a lot of nostalgic regard for 80s-era cartoons; as exemplified by Nick at Nite’s latest reissue of 80s programming, and we believe that choosing a popular 80s cartoon gives the Bandillero game story a current, on-target, retro vibe.

Regardless of how much money management knowledge our target population has prior to gameplay, they should feel confident that they could manage money better than members of a rock band. The prevalence of reality TV and celebrity-related programming will have already exposed our target demographic to the potentially frivolous and erratic money decisions made by celebrities, especially musicians.


Three (3) Levels, Three Female-Centric 80s Rock Bands

          L 1: The Holographics          L 2: The Stingerz          L 3: The Mismatched

Figure A: The Design Direction for Characters in Each of the 3 Levels

The above levels represent the players’ three employers. During the first level, the player is the financial manager for the band The Holographics. They are a nice group of gals, who don’t come into too many major financial pitfalls, and teach the player basic money management. After successfully managing The Holographics finances for 8 rounds of gameplay, the player moves up the career ladder and they begin the second game level as the financial manger for the high-maintenance and eccentric band The Stingerz. The Stingerz have outlandish demands and want to spend beyond their means. It is the players’ job to keep The Stingerz happy and out of credit card debt for another 8 rounds. If successful, the player advances in their career and must pass the difficult 3rd Level as the financial manger for the crazy-cool, drama queen divas in the band The Mismatched. In these final 8 rounds, being the bands’ financial manager is tough! They have ever-unrealistic demands and surprise purchases. The only way to stay afloat is to know how to manage their APR and hope to catch a few of the bonuses that drift across the screen. If they player can not keep the band out of debt, and they max out the credit card, they will need to start over at the beginning of that level they failed. Additionally, there is an ever-present Help button where the player can get personalized tips and gameplay advice.

Gameplay flows through four (4) main Activity Screens.

The four main activity screens are: a job choice screen, an income collection and item grabbing touch-screen, a purchasing and payment screen, and the scoring screen.

Job Choice Screen


Figure 1: Job Choice Screen

Making a choice for the band, supports self-determination theories. Giving players choice encourages personal investment, positive growth and is motivating. This job choice affects the set amount of money that the band makes per-round regardless of the money the player collects on the item grabbing touch-screen, as explained below.


Income Collection and Item Grabbing Touch-Screen


Figure 2: Income Collection Screen Occasional Bonuses (ex. $4,000 Cash) Float Down the Screen

On this screen, money bundles and other items ‘rain down’ from top to bottom. The player uses their fingers to touch the items they wish to collect or ‘purchase’. The band members make requests, and the price of each item is indicated. The players choose which items to touch and collect. Collecting the items that the band requests will increase their happiness meter, but they will become more and more difficult to pay for at the end of each mini-round.

The items that fall across this screen vary from Level 1-3, but include items that the band has requested such as mobile phones, clothes, stereo equipment, plane tickets, musical instruments, etc.

The Learning Goal for this portion of the game is to teach the players that it is not ideal to touch (i.e. purchase) everything you want. Though it might bring temporary happiness, it does not make long-term financial sense.

This touch-screen game mechanic is core to Bandillero. It is based on Mayer’s (2005) Direct Manipulation Principle where by the direct manipulation of the learning materials increases learning transfer and this learning will increase as the complexity of the materials and content increases. This mechanic is typical of many non-education games in the mobile marketplace. The tap screen is familiar, yet requires quick, intense decision-making. This touch-screen game mechanic is consistent with Csikszentmihalyi (1985, 1997) and colleagues (2005) related theory of emergent motivation and the concept of ‘flow’. The game is fast-paced, requires quick decision-making, and has a noticeable rhythm. As the player becomes familiar with the game mechanic, he/she will become faster at flowing through the game. The storyline is quick and fun, as well as the game mechanic, making it easy for players to ‘lose themselves’ in the pace of gameplay.

Players tap the money as it falls down the screen, and must also tap items that the band members requested. During Level 2: The Stingers, band members make several surprise purchased that the player must learn to manage effectively in order to advance to Level 3. During Level 3: The Mismatched, the band members make even more erratic requests and spending choices. It will be more difficult to balance the budget and the bands’ mood. Learning to adjust the APR on the credit card will be one way to win the game, and there are a few $4000 cash bonuses that fall across the screen. Touching on these bonus items will make it easier to win the game.

Purchasing/Payment Screen


Figure 3: Purchase and Payment Screen

Here, the player must decide how to manage the purchases he/she has made by touching items on the previous screen. If the player has done well, they will have touched enough money bundles to enhance the bands’ income. In addition, the items that the band purchased will appear in the item window in the upper left. The player must decide whether to pay the item with a debit or credit card. If there isn’t money available on the debit card, there will be a message that pops up to show them that they must use credit. If the player runs out of credit, they may try to renegotiate with the credit card company once during the game for a credit extension. The design of this purchasing and payment screen was chosen with regard to Mayer’s (2005) Spatial Contiguity Principle, whereby learning is enhanced when words and pictures are presented near each other rather than far from each other, and Temporal Contiguity Principle, where learning is enhanced when words and pictures are presented simultaneously.




Scoring Screen


Figure 4: Scoring Screen


The scoring screen appears at the end of each mini-round within each level. There are 8 fast-paced mini-rounds, per each of the 3 Levels. The ladder to the right represents a ‘Career Ladder’ to show how well the player is advancing in their career as a financial manager for the rock bands. This screen shows the players’ progress summary for the Credit Card Balance, Income Collected, Items Caught (touched), Fees Charged (on the credit card), Amount left in the Bank Account, and Checking Interest accrued. Showing players their progress at the end of each mini-round is congruent with Mayer’s (2005) Spatial Contiguity Principle: Learning will be enhanced when words and pictures are presented near each other rather than far from each other., Temporal Contiguity Principle: Learning will be enhanced when words and pictures are presented simultaneously rather than successively, and Coherence Principle: Learning will be enhanced when there are no extraneous words, pictures, or sounds.

As mentioned previously, the fact that the majority of young adults age 18–29 (Hadhazy 2010) and almost a third of adolescents age12-17 use mobile devices to access the Internet (Lenhart et al. 2010), it makes sense to consider using a mobile device to impact informal learning of financial literacy topics.


Reinforcement-Oriented Design

While playing Bandillero, players must repeatedly experiment with ways to successfully manage the band members’ budget and at the same time keep the band members happy. This repeated experimentation, involves repeated failure. In fact, to win this game, the only way to learn how to play is to fail at it repeatedly, learning something each time (Gee, 2008). Games maintain this positive relationship with failure by making reinforcement cycles rapid and keeping the stakes low (Lee et al., 2011). For example, players will try again and again, and will keep trying until they succeed. The stakes are ‘kept low’ meaning players risk very little by continuing to try the level multiple times. In regular life, on the other hand, the stakes of failure are high and the reinforcement cycles long. When it comes to making good financial decisions, adolescents have few opportunities to try, and when they do make decisions later in life, these decisions are high-stakes. Outside of the game environment, adolescents experience anxiety, not anticipation, when offered the chance to fail (Pope, 2003). Playing Bandillero, and learning to make good financial decisions via trial and error in a low-stakes game environment, will prepare adolescents to make good financial decisions later in life.

Bandillero Game Workflow Chart


Playing the Game

To play the game the player needs to use his or her index finger or thumbs and the ‘tap’ motion.

On the job choice screen, they player will see their progress managing each band’s finances as they get rise a rung on their career ladder on the scoring screen. As the band manager, players need to pick a gig for the band every 4 mini-rounds. These gigs will allow these up and coming stars to earn money on the road to stardom. Players will see the approximate amount of money they can earn for each job before making a choice.

On the income collection and item-grabbing screen, players need to collect the band’s earnings, grab items they want, and avoid items the band has not requested the player buy. Players themselves are not visible in the game, but acting within it. Players use their thumbs or index fingers to move around the screens, catch money as it falls and collect/avoid items. The bands have a checking account and as the player collects money, they will see the account rise in the upper right corner of the purchasing/payment screen. If the checking account doesn’t stay positive, neither will the bands’ mood, and the player may be fired and lose the game. Players see the items the band wants each round across the upper part of the item-grabbing screen. Once players touch an item they must purchase it, which encourages them to tap wisely.

On the purchasing/payment screen players can use a debit card and/or a credit card to purchase the items collected. As in the real world, the debit card draws money directly out of the checking account each time it is used but, in the game, the debit card has a daily limit of $2000. The band has also signed up for a credit card. Just like the real world, this credit card lets players buy something now and pay later. Credit cards will incur finance charges if they are not paid off every round. Over time, the player learns that these fees can really add up! Players decide how much of the credit card to pay off by adjusting the Credit Card Payment slider. Using the drag motion with their finger, the player slides the handle to the left and right. If the player pays less than the minimum, the band receives a late payment penalty, and will get upset!

The final screen is the scoring screen. On the scoring screen is also the Band Happiness Meter. The Meter has four states: Happy, Content, Anxious, and Angry.


If the player goes into debt, incur finance charges, collect fees, or don’t pick up the items the band wants, the band will become anxious or angry. And if the band stays angry for too long, the player will be fired! In addition, this screen shows the Career Ladder. The happier players keep the band, the faster they move up from Coffee Fetcher to Executive Pardner. The happiness meter is a silent indicator of the bands’ mood. This representation was chosen considering Mayer’s Coherence Principle (Mayer, 2005), whereby learning is enhanced when there are no extraneous words, pictures or sounds. The happiness meter does not make noise, and is an easily understood indicator. There are no extra noises or indicators in Bandillero, each element has been considered for playability, ease of use and aesthetic design.

Implementation Plan

The first iteration of Bandillero will be built in Objective C for the iPhone/iPad. As previously mentioned, this is the most easily accessible platform for producing an interactive app or game, and is becoming more widely adopted in schools, which can facilitate informal learning. Though it may seem counter intuitive to create for a mobile platform that is not directly accessible to all low-to-moderate income individuals in our target audience at this time, the price of this technology is dropping and the use of it within school systems is increasing at a rapid rate.

The mobile application will be available in the iTunes App Store for Free download for 6 months (March –August 2012). Students, teachers and parents who have access to an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch will be able to download the game directly to their device to play at their leisure.

We will advertise the March 2012 launch of the game by:

  1. Creating a Facebook Fan page for Bandillero:
  2. Creating a Landing Tab Specifically for the Game, including a countdown widget to alert people when it will be Live in the iTunes App Store.
  3. Creating a direct link from the Facebook Fan Page to the download page in the iTunes App Store.
  4. Driving Facebook Advertising toward the Bandillero Fan Page to increase ‘Likes’ for the Game Page, as well as drive downloads for the app
  5. The Bandillero Fan Page Wall will be used as a forum to gain feedback from those who play Bandillero
  6. After the 6-month period, we will review game feedback and adjust the game design before creating the final game design for launch across different mobile platforms such as Android and Blackberry.




This paper included an introduction to the basics of Financial Literacy instruction within the context of mobile gaming and an introduction to Bandillero, a mobile game for informal, self-directed Financial Literacy instruction.  The landscape of web-based financial tools and calculators aimed at helping young adults handle finances (of which there are many) was reviewed, and these tools were placed in the context of our mobile game for female adolescents ages 12-17, Bandillero.  In addition to the review of Financial Literacy, we discussed the impact of games in education (both the virtues and pitfalls commonly associated with this topic; e.g., Reeves & Read, 2009; Deterding, 2011) and provided context to our current implementation. In examining the problem of poor perceived and actual financial knowledge among young urban women (Hung et al., 2009), we presented as part of our discussion the initial game design for Bandillero to teach Financial Literacy and, ultimately, measure Financial Knowledge outcomes.

A learning objective of the game is to increase financial literacy. The goals of the game are to effectively raise awareness of spending behavior and instill in players the value of saving money. These basic values are the foundation upon which more difficult topics like supply and demand can be understood. Due to the modular structure of my proposed financial literacy game design for Bandillero, different bands or other characters and alternative scenario- layers could be placed into the same ‘template’ game in future design iteration. Educators could propose customized scenario ‘skins’ for the game, if desired, and feedback can be emailed to the game designer at any time.


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