Anthony J. Pennings, PhD


Meaningful Play and a Simulation of the Federal Reserve’s FOMC

Posted on | January 7, 2010 | No Comments

One of my projects last year was to write up the simulation I developed for a Macroeconomics class at New York University and present it at a conference on Teaching Economics. The simulation was designed for students to role-play the positions of the people at the Federal Reserve who make decisions on interest rates and the nation’s monetary policy. The 12 person Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) – primarily the presidents of Federal Reserve banks – meets some 8 times a year. The decisions they make can move hundreds of billions of dollars in or out of the economy. This semester long simulation allows the students to take on those decisions, do relevant research, and finally meet, discuss, and make a decision on interest rates.

In Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals (2003), Salen and Zimmerman highlight the importance of significant interaction for developing a wide range of compelling games, simulations, and role-playing experiences. They argue that good games produce “meaningful play” for its participants and point to the relationship between actions they take and the resultant outcomes that result in successful game experiences. The concept of meaningful play, while evasive at times, provides a useful starting point for analyzing the effectiveness of the FOMC simulation.

While students often find the Federal Reserve simulation obscure at first, they generally come to find it an intriguing challenge. Keeping in mind Salen and Zimmerman’s emphasis on meaningful play, some of the best games are those that act out serious activities and what could be more significant than decisions that involve trillions of dollars and millions of jobs. The exercise runs over the course of the semester during which the actual FOMC meets several times, providing a source of timely feedback. While students do research on their respective demographic areas – New York, Boston, San Francisco and the other Federal Reserve districts, the highlight is probably the actual meeting where the students present on their districts, discuss the country’s economic conditions, and vote on monetary policy. They also write up a press release, keeping in mind its influence on financial markets. The exercise allows students to discover and decipher economic statistics, grasp the economic strengths and weaknesses of different parts of the US,  develop judgment related to economic markets and translate economic data into policy decisions.

To place it more within a educational context, I combined game theory with Bloom’s taxonomy. Bloom’s framework is not exactly the rocket science of educational research, but it is established. Combined we recognize that human learning can be seen to be both a set of integrated concerns a progression of challenges. In the former, Bloom’s model suggests three parts, or ‘overlapping domains’: the Cognitive – recall of information and basic intellectual skills; the Affective – patterns of attention, interest, interpersonal awareness, and the ability to take responsibility in interactions with others; and thirdly, the Psychomotor – physical skills that involve dexterity, speed, fine motor skills and other attributes that influence performance-oriented actions. For the latter, Bloom’s domain of affective provides additional insight into what constitutes “meaningful” play as Salen and Zimmerman argue that such a result has an emotional and psychological dimension. Meaning must strike a resonant chord.  It must have a measure of significance for the players. Bloom’s domain of psychomotor skills is useful in that it introduces a way to understand the role of action and emotion in the learning process.



AnthonybwAnthony J. Pennings, PhD is the Professor of Global Media at Hannam University in South Korea. Previously, he taught at St. Edwards University in Austin, Texas and was on the faculty of New York University from 2002-2012. He also taught at Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand and was a Fellow at the East-West Center in Hawaii in the 1990s.


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