Steve Ballmer Tasked With Fixing The Deficit — With A Video Game

from the you're-going-to-need-a-bigger-laser-gun dept

The Obama Administration has appointed Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson to lead an 18-person, bi-partisan commission tasked with tackling the country’s deficit. USAToday is running a fairly typical piece looking at the multitude of moving pieces that contribute to the nation’s fairly-staggering $12.8 trillion debit load, and the variety of partisan and often factually-challenged bickering that surrounds the debate. Buried down at the bottom of the piece is an odd solution to a very complex problem. According to Bowles, the commission has contacted Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer about Microsoft creating “a deficit-reduction video game” that would allow the average American to attempt balancing the budget. Details are scarce, but it would appear that the likely browser-based game would act to “virally” educate the public on how reducing the deficit isn’t easy. In other words, it’s a PR move designed to seemingly justify why we continue to fail — instead of solving the problem. And here we were busily waiting for a Tea Party MMORPG, or Halo 4: Die Deficit Die.

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Comments on “Steve Ballmer Tasked With Fixing The Deficit — With A Video Game”

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Dark Helmet (profile) says:

You can do better than that, Karl...

“And here we were busily waiting for a Tea Party MMORPG, or Halo 4: Die Deficit Die.”

Oh come on! There’s so much comedic material there!

1. Big Game Hunter: The Dick Cheney Survival Series

2. Age of Empires Afghanistan: You’ve Already Lost

3. Rollercoaster Tycoon: The Banking Edition

4. Wall Street Mogul: Cocaine Not Included

5. Rosetta Stone: Joe Biden Edition

Grey Ferret says:

Hopefully this would be more than just a PR move to justify failing. If the project is taken seriously, some good ideas may result.

Look at what scientists at the University of Washington have done with a “game” to help with Protein Folding. I believe Microsoft was also involved with the development of this as well.

Karl Bode (profile) says:

Re: Re:

yeah I’ve seen various outlets try to suggest that you could create a game that somehow harvested the public brain trust, but I’m not sure what that would net you. Seems like we should be able to afford mathematicians and economists who could do this instead of Joe and Barbara Smith of Pensacola…

But yeah — I do see the possibilities with collective intelligence…I just doubt that’s what they’re doing.

samkash says:

I think your personal dislike of microsoft, which leads you to being skeptical of ballmer, has you missing the point here.

sure it seems like it is probably a dumb idea. but nothing about this says that they aren’t trying to solve the problem. they are reaching out and trying to connect with people in a way that they haven’t tried before, a video game.

From wikipedia:

In 1977, he graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University [3] with a B.A. in mathematics and economics.

so, don’t act like he doesn’t know a thing or two about budgets either. i’m not suggesting he would lead or write or whatever the project himself, but he does have some cred.

and this isn’t the first time an entity is trying to reach out to people through a different medium (video games)

a game to teach kids traffic laws etc

a game to teach young adults sex education

so, who’s to say a game can’t be informative? now are all of these successful or even good ideas? maybe not. but its about trying something different and i thought around here we are about connecting and experimenting?

samkash says:

Re: Re:

don’t focus on one small part of my post, focus on the body of my post and comment on that. of course, you might not be professional enough for that.

i said you have a dislike of microsoft because you don’t offer any reasons for why this video game is a bad idea. the closest you got was that “details are scarce”. you go on to say that “it’s a PR move designed to seemingly justify why we continue to fail.” where does it say that it is trying to justify the falling budget? what it does seem to say is that it wants to help educate the public. why don’t you like to help educate the public?

samkash says:

Re: Re: Re:

i forgot to finish:

therefore, the only reason i can see for you to think this is a terrible idea (again, from what you’ve written here) is that you don’t like microsoft.

even you said that this was buried down at the bottom of the piece, are you trying to tell me the rest of the pieces aren’t trying to solve the problem in anyway? that it boils down to this (possibly dumb) idea for a game?

see i’m not arguing that the game is a great idea or not, i’m arguing that you decided to write about how it’s a bad idea without anything to back up your claim (that its a PR move without a solution)

Ryan says:

Button Masher

Button A: Cut Spending
Button B: …

There are no other buttons.

It seems to me like drug addiction is an extremely befitting metaphor for the problem with politicians, where giving specific constituents subsidies or special privileges is the rush, the new consituencies expecting funds is the crash/withdrawal, and the long-term damage that does to our country pretty well equates with the physical deterioration caused by excessive drug abuse. Or you can work it the other way, where we the people become addicted to it.

If I were to make a game, it would be a lot like the movie Candy or something.

Danny (profile) says:

I can't wait for version 3.0

We all know MS software doesn’t do much of anything until version 3.0…

But seriously, Karl’s post is a bit negative. It isn’t as though this commission is ONLY commissioning a video game. And it does make sense to find an appropriate mechanism to help people experience a simulation of why balancing the budget is so hard.

I do think it will be very difficult to write a game that is Red/Blue value neutral, but it is well worth a try.

And, rather than Microsoft, they might have approached the Sim City people: there is likely stronger related simulation engine experience there.

DJ (profile) says:

Re: I can't wait for version 3.0

“why balancing the budget is so hard”

“Button A: Cut Spending…It seems to me like drug addiction is an extremely befitting metaphor for the problem with politicians”

Indeed. It’s not that balancing the budget is difficult, it’s that balancing a budget where politicians DON’T make ludicrous profits is difficult. Anyone who’s ever been in debt knows that you don’t get out of debt by buying a brand new stretched SUV limo every year; you get out of debt by STOPPING SPENDING!

With the elections coming up, if YOU vote FOR anyone who DOES NOT specifically advocate that, then YOU are an idiot.

Karl Bode (profile) says:

Re: I can't wait for version 3.0

But seriously, Karl’s post is a bit negative. It isn’t as though this commission is ONLY commissioning a video game.

To be fair, my post is ONLY about the videogame, not the additional steps being taken to tackle the deficit. And given my understanding of politicians, and the limited information available about this videogame — my opinion stands.

When the actual game ships (if it ever does) I’ll of course come back and do a follow up. 🙂

Anonymous Coward says:

Its not a good idea, merely because its going to cost money. Politician 1 – “Hey, lets make a game to explain to the public why its not our fault we’re spending ourselves into oblivion” Politician 2 – “That’s a great idea, We’ll setup a contract with Microsoft for 50 million dollars”

While I can admit its probably very cheap for the government. it is exactly why they have the problem in the first place. trying to spend their way out of trouble.

PRMan (profile) says:

It can't hurt.

Of course, they may be shocked to find that the public doesn’t care if all their government appointees cease to be paid.

When those get a 99% “quit paying them” rating, are they going to follow suit?

I would guess that the IRS will get a massive reduction from most people as well.

Also, Congressmen will almost certainly get pay cuts.

Will there be a “Fair Tax” option?

Spanky says:


“it’s a PR move designed to seemingly justify why we continue to fail — instead of solving the problem”

Yaknow, Techdirt, I think, as a nation, we might actually be able to do two things at once.

One of the reasons we got compromised health care reform, instead of a public option, was that the public was lied to by the political right. If Obama had used the bully pulpit from the beginning to inform the public, so that they understood reform, we wouldn’t have ended up with a bill that is a gift to the insurance industry.

I know a video game sounds odd, but public understanding just might be what he’s trying to accomplish here.

DJ (profile) says:

Re: re

“One of the reasons we got compromised health care reform, instead of a public option, was that the public was lied to by the political right.”

I’m not going to sit here and try to absolve Republicans of any wrong doing, but if you think the left ISN’T lying to, you need to wake up and smell the bullshit.

“If Obama had used the bully pulpit from the beginning”

So it’s APPROPRIATE for the government to bully the general public?!?!?!?!

“to inform the public, so that they understood reform”

Really? If you need someone to tell you what to think and how to think on the issues, I feel sorry for you.

“we wouldn’t have ended up with a bill that is a gift to the insurance industry.”

A gift, eh? If you think that completely eliminating your source of income by force is a gift, then please send me ALL of your money. After all, by your logic, I’m doing you a favor.

abc gum says:

Re: Re: re

Spanky -> “a bill that is a gift to the insurance industry.”

DJ -> “A gift, eh? If you think that completely eliminating your source of income by force is a gift”

I do not like thread jacking, but couldn’t let that go unchallenged.

I was unaware that the bill in question had completely eliminated health insurance industry income. Please provide details, as this would be big news. If true, the entire health insurance industry will be gone tomorrow, I doubt that will happen. More likely is that you were exaggerating some talking point you heard on fox news while visiting GlennBeckistan.

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

Games to solve real world problems

Jane McGonigal: Gaming can make a better world | Video on

“Now, I know you’re asking, “How are we going to solve real world problems in games?” Well, that’s what I have devoted my work to over the past few years, at The Institute For The Future. …

I’m just going to very briefly show you three games that I’ve made that are an attempt to give people the means to create epic wins in their own futures. So, this is World Without Oil. We made this game in 2007. This is an online game in which you try to survive an oil shortage. The oil shortage is fictional, but we put enough online content out there for you to believe that it’s real, and to live your real life as if we’ve run out of oil. So, when you come to the game you sign up, you tell us where you live. And then we give you real-time news videos data feeds that show you exactly how much oil costs, what’s not available, how food supply is being affected, how transportation is being affected, if schools are closed, if their is rioting. And you have to figure out how you would live your real life as if this were true. And then we ask you to blog about it, to post videos, to post photos. …

So, for the next world-saving game, we decided to aim higher, bigger problem than just peak oil. We did a game called Superstruct at The Institute For The Future. And the premise was, a supercomputer has calculated that humans have only 23 years left on the planet. This supercomputer was called the Global Extinction Awareness System, of course. …

But in our game, instead of just having five people on the dream team, we said everybody is on the dream team, and it’s your job to invent the future of energy, the future of food, the future of health, the future of security and the future of the social safety net. We had 8,000 people play that game for eight weeks. They came up with 500 insanely creative solutions that you can go online, if you Google “Superstruct”, and see.

So, finally, the last game, We’re launching it March 3rd. This is a game done with the World Bank Institute. If you complete the game you will be certified by the World Bank Institute, as a Social Innovator, class of 2010. …

I say let the world-changing games begin.”

DNY (profile) says:

Budget games

Of course, we can bet that the balance-the-budget simulation will be based on the bogus assumption that tax-rate increases do not stifle economic activity and tax-rate decreases do not stimulate economic activity (despite evidence that they in fact do in the form of the effects of the post-WW II tax-rate cut, the Kennedy tax-rate cut and the Reagan tax-rate cut).

Fred McTaker (profile) says:

Gold Farmers

The people in charge of the economy in this country already resemble World of Warcraft gold farmers enough for my tastes.

More seriously, I have a much simpler solution. When someone benefits the most from a product or service in any market, they’re also usually the ones who pay the most in that market overall. The people who benefit most from government, i.e. via security and workforce access, are the ultra-wealthy. Tax the rich, don’t ask them what the solution is. They lie — that’s how they got that rich in the first place.

Darryl says:

Why not FOSS

Why was MS asked to create a program, and not stallman or torvalds??

Mabey, they wanted something that actually works or mabey they did not want to wait for some other company to innovate the design, therefore enabling foss to clone it.

But, it seems, when it comes to the US govmnt actually wanting to get something done, they do not call on vast numbers of amateurs, but actually call on a company that seems to actually be able to get the job done.

This says alot about FOSS’s perception, and that of Microsoft.

KGwagner (profile) says:

When they can spend millions stashing tweets, you know the government has officially jumped the shark on frivolous spending. As if there were any question…

Anyway, if they want to piss away millions on making a game revolving around something they clearly don’t understand, why not turn it into a jobs program, rather than hire Microsoft to create it? They’ll just piss money away for a couple years and come out with some garbage that’ll only run on Windows, and then only for a few minutes before crashing harder than Obama’s numerous idiotic ideas for stimulating the economy. Then, who’d want to play the stupid thing? They wouldn’t even be able to give it away.

Adam (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Actually, it’s even easier than that. All of the doom and gloom budget projections include the rising cost of health care. We pay roughly twice per capita what other industrialized nations pay for health care. In a few more decades, we’re on track to pay 3 to 4 times. If we institute a real single-payer medical system, all those deficits magically turn into surpluses, because we’re not paying multiple times what we actually need to for health care.

Source: Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research

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