While Congress debates fiscal policies on the Hill, voters can take part in the debate with the Fiscal Ship, an award-winning online game about the federal budget. Developed by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and the Hutchins Center on Fiscal and Monetary Policy at Brookings, the game allows players to learn more about the impact of specific policies proposed by politicians and see their long-term impact on our national debt. 

The game has been updated to be more interactive, with group play and classroom setup. Players can now compare their own federal budget agenda to their peers. For teachers, this includes a group presentation mode, lesson plans, and the option to print off plans for easier integration into the classroom.

The goal of the game is to challenge players to find a combination of policies that match their values and priorities and set the budget on a sustainable course. To play, players choose their priorities by selecting three governing goals such as reducing inequality, strengthening national defense, and fighting climate change. With the latest updates, players can also opt to have the game provide random goals to speed along the decision-making process. A player then chooses from more than 100 different tax and spending options to achieve these goals while trying to bring the debt-to-GDP ratio down from a projected 130 percent in 2041 to 75 percent – a goal many economists consider reasonable.

The 2016 International Serious Play Gold Award Medal winning game has close to 300,000 people who have tried their hand at reducing the federal debt since the game’s launch last year. Consistently updated using Congressional Budget Office long-term projections, the game allows players to see – in real time – how the nation’s spending and tax cuts play out over the next 25 years. 

“Sadly, Congress has few tools to use to understand the budget,” said Jane Harman, a former nine-term Congresswoman who has been head of The Wilson Center since 2011. “Congress is under-informed and constituents have limited information about the tough trade-offs involved in making sound decisions about fiscal policy.”

“Now more than ever, Americans need to understand the choices on taxes and spending that our elected representatives confront, said David Wessel, director of the Hutchins Center on Fiscal and Monetary Policy at the Brookings Institution. “There is so much misleading rhetoric these days that obscures the fiscal reality. Without leaning left or right, The Fiscal Ship aims to help people unfamiliar with all the technicalities and jargon grasp the essentials of the federal budget.”