Common Sense Review
Updated May 2013

Groove Nation

Casual dance game makes learning financial literacy groovy
Common Sense Rating 3
Teacher Rating (1 Teacher Review) 4
  • Groove Nation
  • During the competition players tap the space bar when the star dial lands on a foot
  • Players review income and expenses after each competition
  • Progress graphics help players keep track of achievements
  • Judges give feedback at the end of each roadtrip
  • Dialogue screens provide most feedback to help players achieve goals
Pros
Players get to experiment with money within a dance narrative that holds a lot of kid appeal.
Cons
Game-savvy kids will focus more on quickly beatable challenges than on the ways their actions impact success.
Bottom Line
Gameplay is basic, but with a little prep, Groove Nation can work as a great practice environment to support financial literacy lessons.
Marc Lesser
Common Sense Reviewer
Common Sense Rating 3
Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return? 3

This game infuses money talk with fun activities; but gamers might find the 2D graphics less than exciting. Dance mechanics are simple (and a bit chocolate-over-broccoli) but the narrative keeps concepts like "fixed costs" interesting.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer? 3

Groove Nation blends a dance game with an empowering money-management sim to help kids experience the consequence of their financial choices. Success isn't deeply scaffolded but learners will gain a lot by making their own mistakes.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students? 1

Text-based tips are infrequent and get upstaged by confusing graphic “progress” visualizations. After each road trip, the game presents a panel of judges who give useful written feedback but this advice comes too late.

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How Can Teachers Use It?

Think of Groove Nation as a fun role-playing game to get students in the mood and actually practicing -- not just talking about -- the finer points of managing income and setting goals. Use it as a first night's homework and create a fun reflection session the following day that rewards players who took their teams the farthest. Or take the class to the computer lab to let them play it during class time. Consider setting the mood with some dance music in class and use some screen captures (as part of the students' assignment) to review where students stumbled with feedback or achieved a high point in the game by artfully balancing short- and long-term savings. For the motivated and courageous, consider taking the lessons and mechanics of the game offline and have students re-create it in teams using other familiar console games like Dance Dance Revolution -- or even just an MP3 player and makeshift dance floor -- and give out roles to mock versions of the judges, choreographers, and bankers. However you use it, don't miss the opportunity to unpack the experience and make connections where players may have been too wrapped up in the narrative to notice.

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What's It Like?

Groove Nation is a free financial literacy game published by the nonprofit Doorways to Dreams Fund as part of a series to help kids learn strategies for managing and saving money to reach short- and long-term goals. It capitalizes on the popularity of titles like Guitar Hero and Dance Dance Revolution, but the majority of players' time is spent managing the money that a dance team earns while on a national tour. Kids play in an open Web browser, a big plus for accessibility, though it could also make it tough to manage as a class unless they're playing in a computer lab with decent bandwidth.

Throughout the game, players take on the role of a dance choreographer working to take her team to the top by earning points (and pay) for their dance performances. After each leg of a road trip -- short timed competitions -- players review a virtual budget and move income into short- and long-term savings. Paying off debt and saving for the road earn rewards, but minimal coaching leaves players at the mercy of trial-and-error. Sliders and +/- controls empower kids to experiment with money, and even if their true motivation is to get back to the more playful part of the game, they'll learn quickly that leveling up has as much to do with financial management as it does with how well they can groove.

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Is It Good For Learning?

The developers at Doorways to Dreams classify Groove Nation as a "casual" game, and players and teachers who approach it with that expectation will appreciate it as a reinforcement of basic literacies related to financial management. Hardcore gamers in your class might be disappointed by the actual gameplay, which is pretty much 2D and supports very little agency when it comes to customizing characters or dance moves. However, if your goal is to reinforce lessons that cover setting financial goals and understanding the consequences of spending and saving, then you'll get pretty solid bang for your buck, considering the game is absolutely free.

Despite average ratings for player engagement and some shortfalls in how well it supports players throughout their journey, the dance narrative is a great way to apply concepts like fixed and variable costs in an environment that kids will think is interesting. The game does a nice job of breaking up money talk with purely playful dance sequences. Educators should play it once to review vocabulary and be prepared to fill in where some of the money controls and graphics are a little clunky or hard to grasp at first glance. Teachers can feel pretty confident that students who play the game through to completion (or even just a few rounds) will take away some solid lessons about managing finances and lots of great financial vocabulary.

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