McKinney creates Shady Sam, a new game to expose predatory lenders - McKinney

McKinney creates Shady Sam, a new game to expose predatory lenders

March 20, 2019

For many Americans, obtaining high-interest loans has become a necessary evil — whether it’s for short-term survival or to pursue a small part of the American dream. And it’s a practice that puts them at the mercy of predatory lenders. Spoiler alert: predatory lenders show no mercy.

Shady Sam, a new game created by McKinney for Next Gen Personal Finance, takes aim at predatory lenders by casting its players not as victims but as sleazy stars in an 8-bit B movie. The game uses this look and conceit to drive home the perils of predatory lending and its far-reaching and pernicious implications on people’s credit ratings as well as their ability to finance their dreams.

And though the game uses a “sleazy” lender as a gambit, the deceptive shell games of interest rates and loan terms deployed by Shady Sam and his minions are not all that different from tactics used by “responsible” lenders at big banks.

The game entices players to screw over the people coming to them for money, pushing them into loans that weigh them down under crushing debt while maxing out profits for Shady Sam, their loan shark boss. Their reward for grinding loan-seekers under their 8-bit boots? Tchotchkes for their desk and oily emails of praise (or chastising, depending how much money they’re lining Sam’s pockets with) from their boss. Still, despite casting the players in a villainous role, the game manages to be enthralling in its addictive gameplay while encouraging players to do the “right-wrong” thing.

“The most important question we ask ourselves as we make these games is not, ’what do we want them to learn’ but ‘why will they care?’ said Group Creative Director Jenny Nicholson. “If you don’t nail that, the learning doesn’t happen.”

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 615,000 times (by more than 420,000 students) and was first featured in The New York Times. In addition to Shady Sam and PAYBACK, other Next Gen games include Cat Insanity and STAX.

One of the cool things about the games created by McKinney lies in the fact that they find ways to teach critical financial lessons without “teaching,” so to speak. People come away entertained and educated.

“As with all the other NGPF games, we love finding ways to make the students sit up a bit more and realize they want to pay attention to these lessons,” said Creative Technologist Colin Dwan. “Every loan has weight and we hope this game equips its players with a few extra tools to better understand how to dissect loan terms so they don’t get screwed.”