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She Said, Z Said: Is There a Free Lesson in Financial Literacy in Costly Video Games?

It's game on as parents look to rack up the points they'll make to glassy-eyed kids about those freemium features

Z: I don’t want to sound like a grumpy old man, but I’m a grumpy old man. I cannot believe the thing that our 12-year-old child most wants to spend his money on.

She: Liquor and whores?

Z: I wish. At least that would actually be something. Nope. He wants to spend his money digitally, on things that don’t even exist.

She: That’s a world I have no comprehension of and absolutely no interest in. It all seems like a big waste of time and money. You’re preaching to the choir here; pretty much anything to do with online games is a waste of money as far as I’m concerned.

Z: If he wanted to buy an entire video game, I would understand that. But he doesn’t want to buy a video game. He wants to buy characters and upgrades in League of Legends.

She: I thought that was a free game.

Z: The game is free, but he wants to accessorize. It’s freemium.

She: Is he trying to buy his way to success?

Z: As far as I can tell, not so much. It looks like you can earn in-game money to buy many of the same things, it just takes longer. There are also items you can only buy with real money for aesthetics and fun, but they don’t affect gameplay.

She: Even though I think it’s completely ridiculous, I’ll play devil’s advocate here. How is this different from any other entertainment spending?

Z: The game is free, and you could get nearly the same experience without spending money.

She: But isn’t it a good thing to support the game developers? And isn’t he just creating a richer entertainment experience for himself? It almost sounds like sequels to books to me, where he buys new characters for the world he’s playing in.

Z: You’re awfully enlightened.

She: I’m faking it. I think the whole thing is pretty stupid. If he likes video games so much, why doesn’t he create his own with a sketchpad, outside under a tree. And maybe climb up a tree every once in a while when he’s out there. Free or not free, video games are lame.

Z: He’s spent over $100 on it so far.

She: Now I’m done faking it, and I’m going to go kill him. That’s ridiculous.

Z: Then I’ll bring up this question: Is it our place to tell him how to spend his own money? He saves well, he doesn’t get much allowance, and pretty much all of this money is from either gifts or babysitting.

She: Of course we get to tell him how to spend his money. That’s what parenting is.

Z: I think we definitely make suggestions — which we do — but I’m having a harder and harder time saying no to frivolous things that he wants to buy with his own cash. Other than the liquor and whores.

She: I think that’s partially because he wants so very few frivolous things. When I was a kid, I bought every flavor of Lip Smackers and Big Gulps with my babysitting money.

Z: My thing was comic books and Slurpees. We didn’t have a whole lot of money. My brother even had to save up to buy his own lawn mower.

She: If our kid wants to buy a lawn mower, I’m all for that. We could use a new dryer while he’s at it.

Z: But what if he wants to buy a virtual lawn mower that can be weaponized to kill wolf heroes in an online video game?

She: Then maybe that’s his version of our Lip Smackers and comic books.

Z: Conventional wisdom has it that you get your kid to save a percentage of his money, donate a percentage and spend a percentage. He’s got the saving down, he’s flailing with the spending, and I’ve been a failure on pushing the charity thing.

She: There have been times when he’s wanted to give all his money away, and you didn’t let him.

Z: I’m still not sure why I didn’t. In fact, I’m not sure why I’m not willing to make a few good suggestions, and then let him do whatever he wants with it. Now’s a good time to make some mistakes and learn from them.

She: Maybe that’s why our finances aren’t in better shape now. We never had enough money to make really big mistakes, like spending $100 on a free video game.

Z: There’s still time to correct that. If you’d like, I can go spend a few grand on a new entertainment system. No time to learn from mistakes like the present.

She: Yes, dear.

— Do you think parents should regulate what kids spend their money on? Tell She and Z by emailing .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). And follow them on Twitter: @lesliedinaberg. Click here for previous She Said, Z Said columns.

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