"$ave $teve" Launches

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Library rolls out online game to help people make better financial decisions.
By Steve Zalusky

It is growing more important to save money, and one library is using gaming to teach a skill that is gradually becoming a necessity.

The Chesapeake Public Library has pulled out all the stops - including advertising on a billboard over heavily traveled Interstate 64 and holding a contest to win an iPad - in rolling out a computer game called $ave $teve.

It teaches some basic financial terms and is tailored to different age levels, children, teens and adults. But it is taking material that is dry and rather difficult to present by fitting it into a fun format and relying on the universal appeal of robots.

"We're using the age old technique of tricking you into learning by making it fun," said, Phyllis Schirle, a member of the library team that developed the project, with a laugh.

The story involves a boy opening a lemonade stand. Although he starts making money, he eventually winds up making bad financial decisions along the way, like spending the money right away or not saving. As the story progresses, Steve becomes a teen and then an adult.

The game opens with an animated clip of Steve pondering how he can reach the end of his life with no money and wondering how he can change that by making better financial decisions.

$ave $teve incorporates games people like to play, including word searches and crossword puzzles, she said.

Players will become swept up in the story of robots from another dimension, breaking through to Steve’s world in order to save him, all the while absorbing dry financial information woven into the activities encountered throughout the game.

It can be played by people of all ages with corresponding levels of difficulty.

To join in on the fun, you can log on to $ave $teve at www.savesteve.org. And for more information, check out the Chesapeake Public Library's website.

The Chesapeake Public Library was awarded a $100,000 Smart Investing @ your library® grant, in January 2009, to build a financial literacy game.

The project, called “$ave $teve,” features a multi-faceted investor education program designed to take an individual from rookie to confident investor no matter what their age.

Billboard advertising the Save Steve game.

The main component of “$ave $teve” is an Interactive Multimedia Educational Website developed through a partnership with the Norfolk State University Creative Gaming and Simulation Lab.

The online gaming module will engage the player in making decisions designed to take “$teve” from rags to riches through smart investing.

Smart investing@your library® is administered jointly by the Reference and User Services Association – a division of the American Library Association (ALA) – and the FINRA Investor Education Foundation.

The program funds library efforts to provide patrons with effective, unbiased financial education resources.

Participating libraries use a variety of technologies and outreach strategies to connect library users to the best financial education and information available. These strategies include gaming, online learning, classroom formats, one-on-one clinics, storytelling and staff training.

The Chesapeake library, after considering a number of ideas, latched onto the idea of using online gaming.

Library Manager Jim Blanton, an avid gamer, offered up the concept $ave $teve.

The basic idea involved designing an online game which would teach players the financial information provided by FINRA, while placing the emphasis on fun.

The Creative Gaming & Simulation Lab at Norfolk State University, led by Dr. Rasha Morsi, was brought on board to handle the technical side of developing the game.

Upon receiving the grant Bridgeforth Artists, volunteers and guests at past Library programs, were commissioned to create art and story components. Dr. Morsi selected undergrad student and computer programming expert Michael Chase to be the lead on developing the game.

A final triumvirate from the library, including Blanton, PR expert Schirle and digital futures "guru" Ryan Claringbole then helped to craft the figure of Steve.

"If you saw a picture of Jim Blanton, you would say that our Steve avatar looks very close to what Jim Blanton looks like," Schirle said.

What emerged were Steve’s lemonade stand, Krackle Botz, secret laboratories, and parallel universes, not to mention the educational material on finances and investing.

The key element is the story, Schirle said.

"We thought there should be a good story behind this as well," she said.

Schirle said the game has been very successful. One email from a patron said she had gotten online and played the game. In the process, she actually learned something.

For more information on how the Chesapeake library is breaking new ground, here is Blanton on the show "Thinking Out Loud."



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