Could Arcades Provide Kids Financial Life Lessons?

Could Arcades Provide Kids Financial Life Lessons?

The Arcade Breakdown

We will not avoid the reality that arcades are a giant ploy to suck away money from kids while trying to make it seem like they benefit by earning tickets to get a toy that would have cost them maybe a tenth (or much much less) of the money they spent trying to earn the tickets. That’s the business strategy that has made arcades successful for decades. However, while we spent some quality time with a couple of my cousins yesterday, we couldn’t help but notice some of the habits they were beginning to pick up that related directly to how they might manage their money in the future, particularly how they used their past experience in arcades to inform their ‘strategy’ for this go around. Here is what we observed:

1. An Understanding of Value

Many of the conversations I overheard between my young cousins went something like this:

“This game I know I can win at least 15 tickets from and it only costs 50 cents compared to that game that costs 75 cents and you might only get 10 tickets.”

Watching the boys deliberate about which games would have the highest payout and could make their money and enjoyment of the experience last longer showed me they were starting to pick up on some key financial life lessons – Does this item have value? How long will it last? What can I get from it?

There is a lot to consider when you have a room full of games to choose from and each child may have different ‘values’ whether they’re in there for the prizes or in there for the enjoyment of the game (i.e. playing air hockey because it lasts a long time and is usually one of the least expensive games to play). I watched the boys determine what they valued and then make choices based on that value.

2. Learning From Others (Success and Failure)

In addition to constantly consulting one another on the best strategy to get tickets (and then get their desired candy/toys in the prize room) the boys also would observe others playing different games to see what the overall success of someone at varying types of games was and to look at the strategies others tried to get the most out of the game.

Perhaps the most enjoyable part of our afternoon was watching the boys try and observe without being noticed and then making ridiculous faces when they saw something they were really excited about and trying to silently point out to the other one.

3. Weighing Risks

We all have experienced that crazy dream to hit the ‘ultimate jackpot’ in an arcade game. A classic example of this is the light game with the ring of mini bulbs with a light going around quickly that you try and stop right on the jackpot light and win hundreds of tickets. The catch, of course, is that any other space it stops on will only give you ten tickets at the most. These games have an appeal because they provide a certain challenge and an exciting possible outcome.2837970942_2f71bc9730

Much like investing should involve some risk, I watch the boys choose to allocate some of their time and money to these types of games because they know there’s potential to win big and get exactly what they’re after. They were cautious, approaching this risky game with about 10% of their energy but they enjoyed the excitement as much as all the other kids who had just seen someone hit the 500 ticket payout.

4. Balancing Instant v Delayed Gratification

The hardest part about arcades with a prize section is that it seems you must decide between going for a prize and playing the games that provide the most fun. My cousins seemed at first to want tickets tickets tickets but after Jon and I saved our money for just the fun games (DDR, air hockey, racing games) the boys observed that part of ‘arcade life’ and joined us in the experience rather than solely focusing on winning more tickets.

This wasn’t exactly a lesson from the arcade itself but with Jon and I there pointing out that sometimes it’s not ALL about saving and delayed gratification the boys had a more rounded experience and left with more memories than just their ticket winning accomplishments.

Not to mention the adults have a lot more fun playing the games for enjoyment after they figure out what a scam the whole tickets to prize ratios are. 

Over all we enjoyed spending some time at the arcade with family. Jon and I reflected on the strategies we came up with as kids to get the most bang for our buck (which often took the form of 5 cents per play and not $.75 to $1 it costs in modern arcades). Perhaps some of the lessons we learned from our childhood video game playing days stuck with us or perhaps it’s just wishful thinking but regardless of whether they’re effective – the place is riddled with financial lessons.

What are other financial life lessons have you picked up in arcades? Anyone out there hit the ultimate jackpot a few times? 



  1. Great Post!
    This concept of learning through “Arcades” can be built upon to relate to adults as well, when you consider that Casino’s are basically arcades for adults. When you go to a casino focused on trying to win money, its like you are a kid again trying to collect tickets. Then perhaps after a few unsuccessful visits you realize what a massive scam it is (if you were miraculously unaware of that fact going in), so your focus changes to playing for fun (or getting addicted/poor, or simply stop playing cause its no longer fun).

    • Thanks Justin, we agree that similar lessons can be learned in a casino. Especially the biggest one – to learn that there should never be a purpose to go besides having fun and it should be done with EXTREME caution, like a dollar amount and time limit.
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