When it comes to debt, how do you get teens to care about things like interest rates, compounding and minimum payments?

Start with Cat Insanity, the new game we developed for Next Gen Personal Finance. In under five minutes, it gives them the visceral experience of being overwhelmed by compounding debt: the stress, the frustration, the sense that you can’t get ahead. It’s an emotion-based game that gets students in a state of mind where they are eager to understand the concepts so they can avoid experiencing those feelings in real life.

The game is the collective brainchild of McKinney GCD Jenny Nicholson, Art Director Kathryn Moffitt and Copywriter Jade Stoner, and the idea behind it is to connect with students in an unexpected and somewhat subversive manner.

As Moffitt puts it, “The internet loves cats. Interest rates? Not so much. So we pulled the good old bait and switch to get them when they were least expecting it.” And Stoner adds, “Our goal was to get their attention and say, ‘Hey, if you don’t pay attention to your loan, you could easily get screwed.’”

The game begins with the player choosing a “pet” from among five breeds of cats (or a mixed litter that includes all five breeds) to feed. It’s easy enough at first, since it begins with the player feeding just two cats. But that’s where the cuteness ends and the headaches begin.

As the game progresses, more hungry cats are added after every successful feeding, until it becomes impossible to feed all of them. And much like paying just enough to keep creditors at bay, you can feed the cats just enough in this game to keep them from kicking the bucket. But in the end, the cats that go unfed turn into skeletons, depicting a dead pet but also what a damaged credit rating can mean for someone’s financial security.

Nicholson points out, “It starts as an innocent game about feeding cats, but it spirals out of control, much like compound interest can.” And rest easy cat lovers, because Moffit is quick to add, “And, of course, no cats were harmed in the making of this game.”

Tim Ranzetta, founder of Next Gen Personal Finance, has this to say about the game, “Cat Insanity is a fun way to deliver a serious message to young people: avoid high interest debt!”

The game is one of a continuing suite of games McKinney is creating for Next Gen Personal Finance to promote better financial understanding — the first effort in the partnership was PAYBACK, an online game that educates students on making wise decisions about how they’ll pay for college. The game has been played over 280,000 times and was first featured in The New York Times.