A bunch of suits were sitting in an opulent Regions Bank board room -- complete with peasant butlers, gold-foil wallpaper and chairs stuffed with otherwise useless $1 bills for cushioning.
One executive with a monocle in his left eye starts the meeting.
"Bully! Bully! The young people aren't using banks anymore. They don't see the value in paying our absurd fees to perform basic services in exchange for almost nonexistent interest. How do we convince the Millennials to entrust us with what little money they have?"
Utter silence fell on the room -- that is, until a junior vice-president in his 40s spoke up.
"What about a game?"
The questions came in from all angles.
"Like a board game?"
"How much money should we charge?"
"What's the object?"
Flustered, the vice-president thought for a minute and responded.
"How about we make an iPad app that teaches young people about the virtues of saving money and time management? And the player has to make choices that impact their bank balance, happiness and their grades."
It didn't click. The fat cats seemed underwhelmed. One man went to light another cigar by burning a $100 bill. Desperate, the vice-president added one last part to the pitch.
"...and they learn about this while playing golf!"
Ear perked up immediately. The sound of fists pounding the cherry oak table filled the room, with men getting out of their chairs to shake hands with this genius...who had just described the worst video game ever made, the Regions Scholar Athlete game.
I came across the Regions Scholar Athlete game through one of my myriad Google News alerts related to golf. It was an article from a business journal-type website, the kind that often cheerleads too hard for local entrepreneurs and salivates at the mention of acronyms like ROI and EBITA.
The idea sounded awful. I'd be an incoming college student (go State!) looking to make my school's golf team as a walk-on, all the while trying to maintain my grades and enjoying the campus experience.
I loved college. I caroused. I hooked up. I had hair. There was nothing to dislike about college except actually going to class. So, I actually picked a class each semester my first two years that I just didn't go to for a while.
It was usually a large lecture class, one where I was a Social Security number to the professor and had clueless TAs that were just doing it to get a break on tuition. When I inevitably failed the first exam, then I decided to go. I skipped class to go play golf at the University of Maryland golf course, where I was a student member for an absurdly low price. Why join the golf team and travel places when I could still play golf on the school's time and have my weekends free?
I did take a job. For my first year, I made money taking notes for classes and selling them to the off-campus equivalent of Spark Notes (for an older generation, Cliff Notes). I got $7 per class. Then I took an internship some 30 minutes off campus barely connected to my uninspired business major, working at a branch of a prominent financial services firm. With great people, flowing booze and high profits, it was the best way ever to earn $10 per hour.
I was very, very happy, and I carried one credit card, primarily just to build a credit score. (That's shot to hell. A career in journalism: It's great!) That's all to say that not burdening myself with casual debt and having parents who saved my entire life so I could go to college were crucial to my happiness.
But I didn't need a video game to teach me that.
Through that prism, I hopped on my iPad, into the App Store and installed the app.
I fired up the app the second it finished installing. The graphics rivaled the music video for the 1985 Dire Straits song "Money for Nothing." I love the song, hate the video.
I was greeted by a virtual woman who explained to me the rules of the game. Behind her, the hipster equivalent of the "Hang in there, kitty" poster. Bad start.
Alright, let's play some golf. Obviously, I wasn't expecting EA Sports-grade game play here. But I was expecting something better than what I got, which turned out to be "SimGolf." I was prompted that my golf skill would degrade if my grades sucked and I was unhappy, which is a total buzzkill and completely untrue in the context of this game.
Your player has the worst golf swing you've ever seen, though it's easy to make good "contact" with the swing meter. Since hitting the ball wasn't going to be hard, it was time to push the limits of the game. Apparently, if I hit the ball in the wrong fairway, I went out of bounds. The line was very arbitrary. Chipping, sand play and putting were all straightforward, so it was time to start (re-)living college life.
Before I even got back to my dorm, I had collected a paycheck. Wow, I didn't know I was attending an SEC school!
Basically, the game is making choices -- the same ones, over and over again. They don't change. Eat, study, sleep, shop, golf, play video games. That was incredibly life-like, but also remarkably boring without the possibility of getting laid or playing golf or finding some kind of fun.
But there were also events that just happened to me. All of a sudden, I was lonely and bought a puppy. I wanted a puppy in college because I (a) love dogs and (b) it would be a magnet for cute girls. Loneliness never came into play. However, I realized quickly that responsibility meant taking away from all of the other fun things I did. No dog. The dog I was forced into getting by the game eventually cost me plenty in boarding so I could travel with the golf team.
I apparently bought a new tablet for $400 because I found "going to the computer lab..." Stop right there. After I set up my now archaic, DOS-based email account at orientation, I never visited a computer lab again. In fact, the University of Maryland library system had a creeper who frequented the main library and pleasured himself in the stocks. He was the McKeldin Masturbator. He's why I never used a library in college if I could avoid it. Nevertheless, what college student in 2015 goes to a computer lab? Need something printed in dot-matrix?
Things like this happened for four, long years. And at the end of each year, I had to play in a tournament. I don't know why, but I did. After you play a few times, it's really a letdown not to at least birdie each of the three holes you're supposed to play. So in one my years -- I think junior year -- I made an eagle at the par-4 first. I holed out a shot from about 135 yards, and it was swell though I apparently was incapable of putting any kind of backspin on the ball.
What was even better? The game skipped me to the third hole. Yeah, I didn't even play the second hole, which was a par 5, in that year's tournament. I was taken aback by this glitch, but figured maybe I skipped the second hole to play the fourth instead, getting a little variety in my life. I played the par-3 third and made an easy birdie. That was it. Not only did I only play two holes, but the ShotLink operator behind the scenes gave me a birdie on No. 2. Who knew I was Colin Montgomerie in Jakarta?
After about, oh, 45 minutes, I had finished college and was ready to graduate -- or so I thought. Apparently, I didn't get enough credit hours.
Let me get this right. I poured my heart and soul into this golf program, sacrificed so I could be a student-athlete, and I don't get to graduate? Now what am I going to do with all these American Studies courses?
The good news is that I was great at golf, very happy and had no debt. The bad news? I smashed my iPad in anger.
THAT WAS FUN, RIGHT?!
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