Take that, inflation! ECB gets down with the kids

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Think that you can do a better job running the European Central Bank than president Jean-Claude Trichet, with the destiny of 330 million citizens at your fingertips?

Thanks to two new computer games unveiled by the ECB that can be played on the Internet at http://www.ecb.europa.eu/education, playing god with the euro is exactly what you can do.

"We want to reach out to you -- young people who have grown up in a networked, multimedia world," Trichet told teenagers during a launch of the games at the central bank's headquarters in Frankfurt this week.

"Economia," spelled with an 'E' that resembles the euro symbol, lets players decide appropriate interest rate levels for three-month periods that extend over a total of eight years.

The goal is to match the official ECB inflation target of just below two percent, and teams, like central bank governors, are helped by advisors and a page of economic indicators.

And it's not that easy. Conditions become more challenging as time goes on, forcing players to react to a number of what the bank calls "unpredictable events" such as an oil crisis.

Players can see the 16-nation economy fall apart before their eyes, with unemployment, money growth and production rising and falling as they tweak with interest rates.

To give added realism for budding central bankers, users can see what the press are writing about them, with headlines like "Pleas for rate cut ignored" or "Output falling faster, no recovery in sight" if things start to get out of hand.

"Inflation Island", meanwhile, is designed to demonstrate how inflation affects different parts of society. Users can zoom in to different places and see how things change depending on how stable prices are.

The sun is shining at the peaceful, busy shopping centre when there is price stability, for example, but when the setting is changed to hyperinflation, grey clouds, anarchy and crime take over.

The ECB also provides on its website, complete with a teachers' booklet and pupils' leaflet to download, an eight-minute cartoon featuring a gremlin-like "inflation monster."

The games are available in each of the European Union's 22 official languages and can be played on the ECB's website and on those of participating national central banks.

Teams who tested the games at their premiere on Wednesday found them challenging, with some sending inflation soaring into double digits.

"It was really fun," said Hannah Schroeder, a 16-year-old German high school student.

She was disappointed however that "the unemployment rate is not really an important indicator, the only thing that matters is price stability."

"It is pretty realistic, with heaps of data, but it's tough to follow," added Duncan Marguerez, 16, who studies at the local French school.

If the games catch on, the ECB might develop applications for iPhones and iPads, and plans to develop more educational games in the future, a spokesman said.

© 2010 AFP

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