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Learn to balance your budget with DebtSki

A free online game for students that raises awareness of financial responsibility.

Dong Ngo/CNET

If you are a college student, you should know you now have a much higher chance of ending up with student loans, than if you graduated 15 years ago. And even if you are one of the lucky few who don't, every American is carrying a burden of about $184,000 in government debt and unfunded obligations.

In short, it's important to learn how to be financially responsible. This is the message that mtvU, MTV's 24-hour college network, wants you get via an online flash game called "DebtSki". The game is is part of mtvU's and the Peter G. Peterson Foundation's Indebted campaign, an ongoing effort to encourage students to help stop the fiscal crisis in the United States.

It's a very simple Mario-like kind of game, where you maneuver the game character Piggy Banks through a series of obstacles, while trying to collect coins and then making decisions to spend those coins on items.

There are things you need to collect to win the game; other items are discretionary, which could bring you happiness but could potentially put you in debt. You are challenged to create a balance among happiness, debt, and responsibilities.

The game is the realization of a concept by Brian Haveri, a graduate from Lehigh University and the winner of the Indebted Digital Challenge, which called on young people nationwide to submit a creative idea for a video game that would raise awareness of the dangers of financial irresponsibility.

I tried the game and, though it was nowhere close to World of Warcraft, it was quite a fun challenge to keep things balanced, especially when you start out with a budget of zero and only 15 percent chance of happiness.

What makes it even more enticing is players have the chance to win real money. Each week from now through June 25, 2009, one winner will be chosen to receive $250. And, of course, you can't win without playing.

DebtSki is part of a series of student-led "Games for Change" that mtvU has launched to promote social action in the college community. Prior to this, mtvU has offered "Pos or Not", a game that openly discusses HIV/Aids, and "Darfur is Dying," a game designed to spread awareness about the genocide in Darfur.

DebtSki is free to play and can be found here. Check it out to see how good you are with money.