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Put down the Xbox and play these thrilling games created by central bankers

AP Photo/dapd/Thomas Lohnes
He just broke his high score.
  • Jason Karaian
By Jason Karaian

Global finance and economics editor

Published This article is more than 2 years old.

The European Central Bank will introduce a new €10 note next month. To spice up this rather mundane event, the bank—masquerading as a Frankfurt-based startup out to disrupt the banknote space—is turning to gamification. To familiarize buyers and sellers with the note’s new features, the ECB launched an online clone of the video game Tetris, in which achieving a certain score unlocks details about new security features.

It’s the latest in a surprisingly crowded field of interactive games produced by central banks. Most aim to teach young people about basic economic concepts—inflation, interest rates and the like. Although these games won’t trouble sales of the Xbox One or PS4, they fulfill a particular need—for those times when you wistfully scan the agenda of central bank conferences like “Heterogeneity in currency areas and macroeconomic policies” and crave a piece of the action.

Below is Quartz’s guide to the current crop of central bank games. Scores range from one to five gold bars, with five representing a rock-solid safe haven currency and one a flimsy fiat regime ripe for devaluation.

Strategy and puzzles

Escape from Barter Islands (Cleveland Federal Reserve)

Shipwrecked on the seemingly idyllic Barter Islands, you quickly realize that these windswept lands hide a terrible secret: The lack of a monetary system. This makes buying a replacement oar, sail and other equipment for your boat torture, as you scramble to trade a wide range of unrelated items with single-minded islanders to get what you want before the sun sets and markets close. Wouldn’t it be easier if we all just agreed on a common, portable medium of exchange? Yes, yes it would.

VERDICT: Nice animation, but lacking in atmospherics. Addresses a debate long since settled, even in the 8-13 year-old target market.
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Ten-euro note Tetris (European Central Bank)

A four-level Tetris clone, with each level corresponding to new security features in the upcoming revamp of the €10 note—finish a level and your reward is a factoid about banknote security. The highest 20 scores by Jan. 12 will get a special “VIP banknote” personally signed by ECB president Mario Draghi.

VERDICT: Tetris is fun, so this is fun. But it’s not as educational as other offerings, unless you work in the printing industry.

* * *

Role-playing and simulation

€conomia (European Central Bank)

The ECB’s entry in the you-be-the-chairman series, a staple of the genre, now in its second edition. Your goal is to set interest rates in order to keep annual inflation just under 2% over a period of eight years. An in-game dashboard lets you test your theories against projections for inflation, production and money growth. Unpredictable economic shocks, a fickle press and a squabbling board that often gives you contradictory advice make for a surprisingly realistic simulation of life as Mario Draghi. Also available for iOS.

VERDICT: It’s a pioneer of the central bank gaming genre and remains one of the best.

Euro Cash Academy (European Central Bank)

A Steely Dan-inspired tune puts a spring in your step as you stroll through an unidentified European town square, learning about the new features of the “Europa” series of euro banknotes. You are escorted, appropriately enough, by Europa herself, who is quite keen to tell you all about the finer points of serial numbers, watermarks and holograms. Careful reconnaissance pays off during the quiz round, in which you must answer six questions to win Europa’s favor. Or something. Also available for iOS and Android devices.

VERDICT: A free-roaming platform like Grand Theft Auto, but with less violence and more notaphily.

Fed Chairman Game (San Francisco Federal Reserve)

“Think you have what it takes to steer the country’s central bank?” this game asks at the outset. Well, do you? It’s a simple but effective simulation of running the Federal Reserve: Set interest rates in response to trends in prices and unemployment, aiming to keep inflation around 2%. Succeed over a four-year period and bask in the glory of reappointment as chairman.

VERDICT: Not as rich an experience as €conomia, but serves the same purpose. Could use an update to reflect monetary policy in the age of quantitative easing and the zero lower bound.

Inflation Island (European Central Bank)

Similar to “Euro Cash Academy,” this is an open world ripe for exploration. Set the inflation gauge on anything from deflation to hyperinflation and see how the islanders react. Interestingly, the devastation and despair wrought by hyperinflation stands in stark contrast to the mild annoyance generated by deflation.

VERDICT: Dig the moody soundtrack and embedded historical videos from Weimar Germany, 1940s Hungary and other troubled economic episodes. The game play, however, is a little dull on anything aside from the sadistic “hyperinflation” setting.

* * *

Action and adventure

The Monetary Policy Balloon (Bank of England)

The Bank of England employs meteorological metaphors to explain price stability in this straightforward side-scroller. Keep your hot air balloon at or near a certain altitude—which corresponds with 2% annual inflation—as the economic winds try to blow you off course. The metaphors are a bit tortured—a busy factory generates smoke which heats the air and causes your balloon to rise—but effective enough.

VERDICT: Surprisingly tricky to keep that darn balloon steady—I don’t envy you, Captain Carney. Could use some background music to enliven the somewhat monotone narration.

Top Floor (European Central Bank)

The drama of this game is made clear in the opening splash screen: “The ECB’s Governing Council is meeting to decide on interest rates for the euro area. Your mission? Collect the seven briefing documents and deliver them to the Council.” Try to ignore your pounding pulse and answer a series of questions about the inner workings of euro zone institutions in order to collect the necessary documents and unlock new floors on the elevator. Photorealistic graphics and a touch of humor provide a touch of levity to this otherwise solemn mission.

VERDICT: Despite being the slickest of the central bank games,  it’s a bit too easy to resort to the elevator helpline phone for sure-fire hints to answer thorny questions.

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