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The Lives Behind the Numbers On the Screen: Illustrating the Social Consequences of Economic Change by Telling Stories on the Web


  • Jocelyn Paine

    () (Virtual Worlds Group)


Virtual Economy was developed by the author and colleagues for distance-teaching economics to sixth-form and beginning higher-education students. It runs over the Web (at the time of writing, at and allow students to act as Chancellor, changing tax rates and other parameters, and getting back numeric forecasts for growth, inflation, unemployment and other macroeconomic variables. One problem is that the numbers may mean little to some students. Is 2.6% GDP growth significantly better than 2.4%? Is a 5% unemployment rate high, low, or normal? Why is 20% inflation so bad? In this paper, we describe experiments to relate the numbers to social experience, by generating virtual diaries and newspaper reports showing the effects on everyday life. The generator uses artificial intelligence techniques, and attempts to impose a narrative structure on the output to make it more compelling. The paper includes an analysis of the different ways in which we believe the macroeconomic effects should be interpreted to students.

Suggested Citation

  • Jocelyn Paine, 2005. "The Lives Behind the Numbers On the Screen: Illustrating the Social Consequences of Economic Change by Telling Stories on the Web," Computers in Higher Education Economics Review, Economics Network, University of Bristol, vol. 17(1), pages 31-41.
  • Handle: RePEc:che:chepap:v:17:y:2005:i:1:p:31-41

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