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RALEIGH, North Carolina (Reuters) - With the recession impacting college students, MTV's college network mtvU is turning to one medium it knows will get attention to help teach students to cope with tough financial times -- a video game.
mtvU has joined with the Peter G. Peterson Foundation's Indebted Campaign to launch the online video game "Debt Ski," which was designed by a university graduate and developed by Persuasive Games that specializes in video games with an opinion.
In the game players guide a pig, Piggy Banks, on a jet ski through various obstacles to maximize his savings, limit his debt and keep him happy while buying food, housing and other items, with the aim of teaching players how to identify and manage debt.
Banks has the choice to buy the latest electronics and clothing which can make him happy -- but plunge him into debt. Spending tsunamis, such as unexpected medical bills or increases to the cost of living, can hit him along the way.
When players lose, they get debt management information.
"Arguably, the economic crisis is one of the biggest challenges facing this generation," said Ross Martin of MTV360.
"College students are dealing with a broad range of issues from rising tuition to entering one of the most daunting job markets in recent history. Students don't sit on the sidelines, they take action -- they become the creative engine driving social change."
"Debt Ski" is the third in a line of games sponsored by mtvU that deal with serious world issues, with previous games focused on Darfur refugees -- "Darfur is Dying" -- and HIV positive patients -- "Pos or Not?"
The Peter G. Peterson Foundation was founded last year by the chairman emeritus of The Blackstone Group with a commitment of $1 billion to increase public awareness and action on the nature and urgency of key fiscal challenges threatening America.
Its Indebted Campaign seeks to educate students about their debts as well as the growing federal debt.
The foundation's president and CEO Dave Walker said there was strong appeal to using a video game as a messenger as college students spend a major portion of their day in front of computer.
"Young people, who are arguably the most important audience to reach these days when it comes to inspiring social change, are hard to reach through traditional media," said Walker.
The game was designed by 26-year-old Lehigh University graduate Brian Haveri who won a contest to come up with a video game to promote the messages of the Indebted Campaign.
Haveri won $10,000 and students are being encouraged to play "Debt Ski" with a prize of $250 a week on offer through June.
"Early data shows that there are high replay numbers, which means the audience is spending time on the site and playing the game multiple times -- increasing the odds that the core messages are coming through and have the potential to make an impact," said Martin.
Over the next few months, the Indebted Campaign is aiming to expand the ways it puts out its message, such as exploring the iPhone as a new way to reach gamers.
The Foundation has also partnered with New York-design school Parsons The New School and the National Association of Public Administration to create "Budgetball" that teaches students the trade-offs involved in responsible budgeting.
"Learning about social challenges through games is a great way to help you visualize the extent of the problem and the impact of possible solutions," said Walker.
Editing by Belinda Goldsmith