WASHINGTON – The creators of “Budget Hero,” the popular serious game which helps people of all ages understand the federal budget and the trade-offs involved in the budgetary process, have launched an Election Edition to illuminate the budget impact of policies championed by President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney as well as those related to the impending “fiscal cliff.”

The updated version contains 27 new policies in all, including the Ryan Medicare and Medicaid Plans; Taxing Sugar-Sweetened Beverages; Changing Distribution of Social Security Benefits; and many more.

The Election Edition was made possible by a grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. It includes the latest numbers from the Congressional Budget Office and a wide variety of other sources, such as the Congressional Research Service.

“With well over 1 million plays, Budget Hero has already helped bring the American public into the debate about fixing our federal budget,” said Michael Van Dusen, executive vice president and COO of the Wilson Center. “The election edition provides an engaging way for citizens to learn more about the budgetary proposals of each Presidential candidate, using nonpartisan resources that allow them to make informed decisions.”

Nearly 20,000 comments have been submitted through the game, with the majority of commenters saying it changed the way they think about the federal budget. Many players also noted the tradeoffs they were willing to make, and showed a willingness to make choices that were not in their self-interest.

“Budget Hero is allowing us to gather perspectives and insights from America on what role government should play and to help journalists tell a whole new dimension to the federal budget story,” said Mike Reszler, vice president for digital media at American Public Media. “The game goes to the core of what the Public Insight Network is about: a belief that technology coupled with great reporting can add diversity, depth and context to important issues and spark meaningful public dialogue.”

Read What Budget Hero Players are Saying About the Game

How it’s Played

“Budget Hero” invites players to explore the financial and social impact of proposed cuts and expenditures as they create, test and compare their own federal budgets. Players can earn “badges” by “playing” policy cards that correspond with their values.

Play the Latest Version of Budget Hero

Player Data

Through August 2012 Budget Hero has been played 1.3 million times, with 75 percent of players playing a complete game. Demographic data from the game shows wide support among players across age, household income, gender, and party affiliation for reforming and simplifying the tax code and increasing the amount wealthy seniors pay for drugs.

The top 10 most frequently played cards over the last year were:

  1. Rapidly cut troop numbers in Iraq and Afghanistan (most played card every year since original version of Budget Hero debuted in 2008)
  2. Reform and simplify the tax code
  3. Slow the increase of social security benefits
  4. Raise the social security eligibility age
  5. Increase drug costs for wealthy seniors
  6. Cut discretionary spending
  7. End tax breaks for big oil
  8. Cut Medicare waste and payments
  9. Require drug companies to give deeper Medicare discounts
  10. Limit malpractice torts

Players across all demographics – including elder players – demonstrated a willingness to reduce the benefits going to the elderly including increasing the cost of drugs for wealthier seniors, raising the Social Security age, and slowing the increase of Social Security benefits.

More Analysis of Budget Hero Data available upon request.


Media Contact:

Drew Sample

Media Relations Coordinator, the Wilson Center




Mary Sutherland

American Public Media



Notes to Editors:

The Budget Hero Election Edition was made possible by a grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The grant also is funding a full-time American Public Media (APM) reporter whose job is to mine game-play data along with insights gathered through APM’s Public Insight Network (PIN) to report on matters of public policy. Nearly 50,000 PIN sources have played the game since July, and several thousand have offered their insights on the budget and related issues.

John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation supports creative people and effective institutions committed to building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world. MacArthur is one of the nation's largest independent foundations. Through the support it provides, the Foundation fosters the development of knowledge, nurtures individual creativity, strengthens institutions, helps improve public policy, and provides information to the public, primarily through support for public interest media.

The Wilson Center provides a strictly nonpartisan space for the worlds of policymaking and scholarship to interact. By conducting relevant and timely research and promoting dialogue from all perspectives, it works to address the critical current and emerging challenges confronting the United States and the world.

American Public Media™ (APM) is one of the largest producers of public radio programming in the world, with a portfolio reaching over 17 million listeners via more than 800 radio stations nationwide each week. Programs include A Prairie Home Companion®, BBC World Service, Marketplace®, Performance Today®, The Splendid Table®, On Being™, American RadioWorks® and many others. American Public Media is the parent organization for Minnesota Public Radio, Southern California Public Radio and Classical South Florida.  APM’s 170,000-member strong Public Insight Network® uses intelligent sourcing, community engagement and innovative technology to assist journalists in strengthening connections with the communities they serve and creating news coverage that is credible, relevant, in depth and diverse. For more information, visit PublicInsightNetwork.org.