Heroes of Might and Magic II is an old game when they were still getting a handle on new design. As great as it is, it isn’t a game that grew up within a critical atmosphere where such things are considered, even if only tangentially nowadays. Which is a long way of saying there is not a whole lot the game has to say. Still I do have one last thing thought the game brought to mind. One that I think is extra important given the upcoming Black Friday. (Though I may be too late to get anyone to read this.)
It is a strategy game, which means you are buying things. Buildings to make monsters to bring into battle, recruiting the monsters, building other miscellaneous structures, or heroes to lead your army. In other words, you will be spending a lot of gold (and crystal, mercury, sulfur, gems, ore, wood). You do earn resources, 1000 gold a day from each castle, and there are mines and other resources gathering facilities. If you need more of a specific resource, you can build a market in your castle or find one in the over world. If you have multiple markets and visit one in the over world you can drop trade prices with each market. It is a basic economic model without complexity. Unlike some strategy games now, there is no credit system in the economy.
I know a lot of strategy games of old and now still employ this, but HOMM2 was the game I was playing when these thoughts came to me. In these games you cannot spend more than you have. If you do not have the resources then the purchase is simply unavailable. It sounds so basic why would I have to say it? Well its because apparently no one knows this nugget of common sense if the credit crisis and banking failures are any indication. When said out loud this piece of advice makes perfect sense, but we never put into practice. We are never taught to do so.
Kids nowadays whenever they get money, spend it. (Don’t hound me if you are the exception, I’m one too.) They don’t save for a rainy day or in this case, a nation credit failure. So when they grow up they do not have the tendencies to do so as adults. The United States government is not saving either. Any surplus, of which we haven’t had for 9 years, went straight out of any account it’s in into paying off the debt, as it should. I’m not going to get into specifics, but sufficed to say this economic model is not sustainable. This is a problem, especially when not having money is no longer a barrier to buying things.
In Heroes of Might and Magic II there is, it’s a red circle with a line through it over a symbol of gold. If you can’t afford it, you can’t buy it. Even beyond that is the concept, if you want to win, sometimes you go turns without buying anything, saving up for a bigger, more expensive and more strategically relevant structure that you can afford next turn, or two turns from now or hell a whole week.
If you spend all the money you have whenever you want you will find yourself at a great disadvantage. After a while you will find yourself incapable of doing anything at all and lagging behind your opponents.
My point from all this, is why can’t games teach us this. Yes there are learning simulation games that are boring where that is their entire purpose. But even with games like HOMM2, it can teach, by application. Not everyone will learn, but a system like that can teach a person the idea that if they don’t have money than they should spend it. Or even better, given the advent of easy credit, that if they keep spending they will be in dire straights without any savings or resources.
The connection of such simple ideas, that have no pretension about them, and real life is not new. It is the purpose of art (lower case a) to mirror or reveal the real world in some way. Despite Heroes of Might and Magic II, being on another world with fantasy monsters and magic, it still can connect to our everyday lives in a meaningful way. The way we spend our money. I know it would never come about, but if everyone or even just most of us followed the two simple economic ideas in HOMM2, then we wouldn’t be where we are today.
Video games can teach us something by the act of participation. They don’t teach us how to aim and fire guns, how to launch a guerrilla campaign, or how set up a drug dealing syndicate. What they teach us are ideas, concepts, like any other medium.
What did Heroes of Might and Magic II teach me? The basis of smart money management.