Budget Hero: The Game

The video game “Budget Hero” lets players try to balance the federal budget. What if all problems are solved by video games in the future?

7 thoughts on “Budget Hero: The Game

  1. “What if all problems are solved by video games in the future?”

    Actually Ted have you ever herd of the video game “FoldIt?” (a contraction of “fold” and “it”)

    One of the ongoing problems in biology is protein structure folding. Large arrays of computers are used to exhaust every possibility of folding (not too hard for smaller proteins, but a akin to filling a swimming pool with an eye dropper for some of the larger proteins). Many statistical methods and other ideas from crazy to elegant to the intellectual equivalent of brute force are all being applied to this problem, and everything yields a few good results, no mater how impractical or ridiculous.

    The conceivers of Foldit decided that somewhere out there there was either a brilliant human or an idiot servant for whom correctly folding proteins was an intuitive and rapid process. So Foldit turns the problems of protein folding into a game just in case the hypothetical person or people have internet access and like to play around with random free net games. In theory the correct conformer for protein folding should be the lowest possible energy (not always true but even in the specific cases where it is not, the lowest energy state of the protein is still immensely important). Thus the way Foldit works is it gives you a polypeptide and lets you, the player, try to fold it while the game preforms something like quick AM1 calculations on the fly to estimate the energy of the resulting folding conformation. Then your “score” is proportion to how low an energy conformation you can “fold” out of the protein.

    Thus, in theory if you manage to “fold” the highest possible score on any given protein, you have correctly determined its structure. Of course in reality you have just found the most thermodynamically optimal structure so far. Once some other person has bested you then they have found a better structure for the protein. The “best” or correct structure is simply assumed when no one can come up with a higher score playing Foldit for a given protein.

    The people who manage Foldit claim that your name (should you chose to release it) will be cited in any academic publications that rely on the results of your work (i.e. your playing).

    I have never played Foldit, but out of curiosity I went once to look at the high score list and was highly amused. You will see some random protein with the “high score” (a.k.a. energy of best folded conformation to date) with the “player” listed next to it as something like “Mayo research group at California Institute of Technology using statistical method 234AF”. Then directly underneath that you will see that the high score for the next listed protein is held by someone like “The L33t Folder”.

    I showed Foldit to a college and his response was “I am going to be really fucking pissed off if ‘The L33t Folder’ ever ends up having more publications then me.”

  2. Oh also I forgot to mention that the NYTimes kind of made a slimmed down version of “Budget Hero” a while back. It doesn’t give you lots of fine control, but it is still interesting and potentially educational to fool around with. Here you go:


    (Note you will need Java Script active for this. Just an FYI for people like me who surf the net with all scripting options disabled and blocked for various paranoid reasons.)

  3. As I recall, the NYT simulation left out the most important option, leaving the budget out of balance. In case you didn’t notice, we’re in a bad recession just now.

  4. @Lee: a very valid point.

    Of course it has two time frame windows, 2015 and 2030. You can shoot to balance by 2030 with it and not balance for 2015 with it (although making the assumption that we will still be in a bad recession by 2015 is a bit depressing, but perhaps correct.) You can also imagine that the cuts would start AFTER the depression is over and just adjust the 2015 or the 2030 window forwards by the number of years you think it will take to get there, and mentally note the difference in the deficit given the average yearly increase in the deficit which you would have to compensate for by going into surplus on the simulation.

    In the end there are a lot of important options the NYT simulation left out, but it is still a cute little informative tool/game to toy with in-spite of its drastic oversimplification and focus on predominantly main stream and conventional budget options.

    Sadly as main steam and conventional as many of those options are many of them would be impossible to pass in real life regardless. Tells a lot about the US governments current state of function, or dysfunction as it were.

  5. We had something similar in Oregon. I balanced the 2011-12 biennial budget, even while increasing social spending, by closing tax loopholes, ending tax breaks and other public subsidies for wealthy people and corporate entities, and instituting a 1% sales tax. The latter hurt, since it disproportionately impacts workers, but at least they’re actually getting something for it other than more imperial adventures.

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