After 20 years of watching frustrated consumers grapple with managing money, financial consultant Vicki Brackens was struggling to develop a financial educational program for youth—that is, until she saw a group of young boys playing tee ball.

“These 6 or 7 year olds were practicing tee ball in a safe, nurturing environment and not being punished for their mistakes,” said Brackens, who works for Brackens Financial Solutions Network, a MetLife Company. “I had a truly inspired moment. The way we typically teach, we always practice first and aren’t punished so severely for our missteps.”

Brackens, the founder and creator of the World of Cheddar LLC, a financial company unaffiliated with MetLife, teamed up with Syracuse University School of Information Studies Associate Dean for Research Jeffrey Stanton to help create a 3-D practice world for students to learn about money management. This simulated World of “Cheddar” (which is slang for money) will allow young people to make mistakes with their money without experiencing the financial loss in real life.

Brackens originally connected with Stanton because of his work with the virtual world Second Life, but after a series of trial runs, they realized that Second Life was too complicated a platform to use for the game. Instead, the game will be designed as more of a curriculum that could be used on any communication platform: e-mail, Facebook, text messaging, etc.

“We’re creating an interactive game where students as players, engage with realistic scenarios to make on-the-spot decisions about their finances,” Stanton said. “Using a holistic set of criteria, the winner is selected based on who manages his or her money the best.”

Stanton has been working with iSchool doctoral candidate Mawaki Chango for the past 18 months and estimates they have a year’s worth of work left to accomplish, though they completed a 10-day pilot test in April funded by Key Bank. Brackens anticipates that the bank will be an ongoing partner as the project moves into the second phase during the Fall 2010 semester. The challenge for Stanton and the team is developing something children want to play.

“It’s difficult to create something with learning value that is also appealing to students,” Stanton said. “We’ve used focus groups to help design an engaging game.”

Though Stanton explained that the game is similar to the stock market games played in the newspaper, there is one big difference. The goal of the newspaper stock market games is simply to maximize one’s investments while the Cheddar Bowl in 3D incorporates other factors, such as personal values and priorities, into the players’ financial decisions.

For example, the game takes into consideration the neighborhood in which the player decides to live and calculates the necessity for a car and other transportation costs. Students would also be able to factor in the cost of owning a big screen television if they wanted to ensure they saved money for one. Even unplanned events, like an apartment burglary, will also contribute to the outcome of the game.

Brackens said it was important to incorporate the players’ priorities and choices in the game and how those financial choices contribute to their overall happiness.

“I want the students to be immersed in the experience so they can understand and feel the emotions of what it means to be involved,” she said, “but also have enough frame work to protect them so they can learn, experience, and relearn how to manage their money.”

Stanton holds a Ph.D. from the University of Connecticut and is Associate Dean for Research and Doctoral Studies in the School of Information Studies at Syracuse University. His research focuses organizational behavior and technology, and he has published more than 60 scholarly articles in top peer-reviewed behavioral science journals, such as the Journal of Applied Psychology, Personnel Psychology, and Human Performance.