Budget Hero 2.0: Fun with debt ceilings!

This Web game starts out empowering, but quickly becomes a depressing exercise in futility that might even make you feel sympathy for politicians faced with tough choices.

Budget Hero 2.0 will soon having you throwing your own family under the fiscal bus to balance the budget. Screenshot by Eric Mack/CNET

A new Web game has finally brought every American taxpayer's fantasy to life. Budget Hero 2.0, a timely update to an earlier title, gives players the chance to choose where their tax dollars are spent while simultaneously working to save our ailing economy.

It's somewhat ironic that the game was created at least in part with the help of federal tax dollars by American Public Media, which produces public-radio shows including "Marketplace" and "Prairie Home Companion."

Budget Hero uses data from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, which keeps track of the budget and makes predictions about the impact of all sorts of proposed policies. This allows the game to get pretty wonky very quickly, with options to "extend the Bush tax cuts" and link that amount to inflation right off the bat. It's almost as confusing as calculating hit points, for all you old-school D&Ders out there.

Once that's all sorted out, the game provides all sorts of options for spending and cutting across categories like defense, education, Social Security, and more. It's a depressing exercise in just how screwed we are, and has the odd side effect of making a player actually feel sympathy for the politicians faced with these headline-making decisions.

I found that I wasn't able to balance the budget. After upping education spending, I went to work making cuts, and found little leeway. I cut defense deeper than seems wise and was still nowhere near a balanced budget, so I raised the age to start receiving Social Security and made cuts to health care. Still overbudget.

Having already sold my values short and taken away some of my own mother's monthly income, I had to give up and start writing this post to help balance my own budget. Let me know if you had any more success, and if you were able to do it without converting all interstates back to wagon trails.

 

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