The best video games for economists


The best video games for economists

If you’ve decided it’s time to take a break from all the hard studying you’re doing during this coronavirus isolation period, why not kill some hours playing a video game?

Better yet, why not kill some hours playing a video game which will help you accrue business acumen and improve your real-world economics knowledge? Sound too good to be true? Thankfully, there are some games which offer just that.

Check out our Advice section for more helpful tips for economists

top video games for economists to practise their economics

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1. Capitalism

This classic business simulation game and its well-reviewed sequel Capitalism II allow you to live out your wildest dream: running the most successful business in the world. As CEO, you’ll have to avoid  bankruptcy, fight off competition, and make sure you don’t get bought out. While the game’s beginning is not the most realistic - you can start your journey with capital of two hundred million dollars if you want - it offers an insight into how one could start a new company, providing semi-real simulations of markets and the cutthroat world of business.

At the game’s outset, you can either start totally from scratch , or ‘inherit’ a business, like, for example, an agriculture company. Typically, your goal will be to dominate a certain percentage of market share within a certain time period. An expansion, Capitalism Plus, released in 1996, introduced random events such as riots and technological breakthroughs, making the already-complicated game even more difficult to play. (The game has been ranked as one of the most difficult games ever.) Have fun failing at your first business - thankfully, at no risk whatsoever. 

2. Virtonomics

One of two business simulation games on our list, Virtonomics is used in schools and on university campuses to help students learn the ins and outs of business markets. Both entertaining and educational, this massively multiplayer online game, of which Virtonomics has released a few versions (Entrepreneur, Business War, and the original), are similar to Capitalism (also recommended in this article) in that it simulates the processes of building a business in a competitive environment.

With totally open-ended gameplay and the ability to play forever if you want to (though we don’t recommend that), the turn-based game allows players to compete against not only other players but also the computer, and you can pick whichever market you’d like: agriculture, retail, marketing, you name it. Virtonomics also offers a reduced rate for students while the coronavirus pandemic continues. What better way to spend your time cooped up than improving your business acumen and learning something about economics at the same time?

3. Pharaoh

The sequel to Sierra’s lauded Caesar, this game was a huge success, adding new features to Impressions Games’ intricate city-building interface. Here one takes control of ancient Egyptian societies, attempting to keep your citizens happy while producing enough raw materials to trade and improve the conditions of your workers. Military battles are fought in real-time with the choice between archers, soldiers, and naval vessels, and many missions require the building of monuments including the fabled pyramid.

Economists will be especially intrigued by the monetary system, which is pretty tough: you’re allowed to go into debt in order to build your city, but each year you remain in debt lowers your Kingdom Standing, which, if it becomes too low, will result in the Pharaoh sending his troops to obliterate all of your hard work. Money can be made on certain levels by mining gold deposits, but these are often located on unfavorable terrain; if your city isn’t lucky enough to have these, you’ll have to create goods like beer and pottery, open up trade routes, and pray that droughts and floods don’t hinder your ability to sell your wares. An intricate and difficult game that will facilitate hours of frustration (and hopefully a bit of fun, too).

4. Cities: Skylines

One of the most successful city building games ever, released to compete with SimCity (which bombed, leaving space for this game), introduced an intricate but simultaneously easy-to-understand concept of how to make a large city from just a small plot of land. You’ll start off with a small budget and a tiny plot, and have to expand your plot into a village, a town, and a city, with the ultimate aim of creating a metropolis the size of New York (if you’re good enough, that is). As you work your way through the game, you’ll unlock new buildings and features, as well as the ability to designate parts of the city as districts. Along the way you’ll have to invite workers and provide them with jobs, which then will give you revenue, with which you can improve the city, and so forth.

The city eventually becomes very complex, with transport links operating from one end to the other, different road types to reduce noise pollution, the ability to force certain districts to only offer one kind of industry (agriculture, for example), and much more. Using your economic expertise (as well as architectural and design skills) you’ll be able to manage your cities finances and mix building the infrastructure of the city with budget and economic planning, until your city runs like a well-oiled machine.

5. Theme Park World

Following the success of Theme Park, Theme Park World lets you build your own - well - theme park. The player takes control of a relatively simple business model: expand the park, research new attractions, remain profitable, and win keys which open up new levels and rides. You’ll also have to hire staff to maintain the parks, including cleaners, mechanics, entertainers and guards, all of which are important to keep visitors happy, prevent thefts and other crime, keep the park clean, and make sure none of the rides break down.

Once you’ve made enough money, you can start to upgrade your rides and train your staff, making the latter more efficient, and the former more fun! And once you’ve done all that, and your coasters pay for themselves, use the in-game currency of Golden Tickets to jump down into first-person mode and walk around your own park, even going on some of the rides you’ve created yourself.

6. Civilisation

One of the most famous and widely loved strategy games probably of all time, Civ (as it’s commonly known) allows you to create a civilisation (duh) and control it all the way from an early settlement to a highly developed, industrialised world power, whether that being through military dominance, technological superiority, or diplomatic acumen. While there’s a mode to play against the computer, you can also play against your mates, making it a fun social thing to do while you’re stuck inside. Civ layers multiple aspects on top of economics, such as militarism and politics, to create complex and long-ended gameplay, but you’ll have to deploy your economics knowledge to make sure your raw materials are used correctly and you’re able to continue making improvements to your settlement. 

Newer installments, such as 2016s Civilization VI and its expansion pack Gathering Storm from 2019, include features such as the introduction of natural disasters, as well as new leaders and civilisations to control. So head in, pick your civilisation, and take over the world.

7. Animal Crossing: New Horizon

Perhaps not the first game you think of when it comes to economics, but especially the latest installment for the Nintendo Switch, New Horizons, is special for its in-game currency of Nook Miles and the ability to craft tools and furniture. The basic concept of the game is that you purchase an island on which you create a community of anthropomorphic animals, collect items and materials which you can craft into decorations and tools, and slowly build up the infrastructure of your little slice of the world.

The latest installment allows multiple people to play together or simply visit each other’s islands, and includes new weather conditions, as well as seasons which adjust to which hemisphere the player is in. Always a well-liked series, the most recent game has received overwhelmingly good reviews. So get to your island and start figuring out how you’re going to make enough money to craft those decorations!