Community Q&A: Alex Recker's Civilization V-Inspired Finance System

You may have heard of Alex Recker recently. He's the guy who posted this diatribe about how he and his wife were inspired to think about their finances differently, all thanks to the economic systems of Civilization V. His blog post was then picked up by Kotaku, Lifehacker and more.

After reading his story, we were inspired to get in touch and ask a bit more about his love of the Civilization series and what's next for his project.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Well, I went to college in Wheaton Illinois and graduated with a degree in chemistry. I got really into computers my last year there, which led me to getting a job as a software engineer for an EMR and medical billing company in Rockford, IL. I was definitely not one of those people who started programming at age 5 or whatever. I was a late bloomer - I didn't even really know how to use a computer until I started going hard at it.

Linux and free software are a big deal for me, since I relied so heavily on that community to learn how to program in my spare time.

Besides playing with code, I also enjoy video games, blogging, cooking, drinking beer, redditing, and hanging out with my wife and dog.

When did you first start playing Civilization? What’s your favorite game in the series?

I was a late bloomer with PC games too. I didn't get into Steam until it was released for Linux. There were only like a few dozen games ported, so I pretty much bought them all and tried them. Civilization V was one of these, and of course it quickly became a favorite. Also, my good friend and roommate in college played it constantly, so it was fun to finally get online and game with him.

You and your wife play Civilization together? Have you always gamed together? Who got who interested and how?

There is a funny story that led to that. Most couples try to reach compromises with how they spend time together. My wife and I have always liked to barter for each other's time. Why spend time doing something you both kind of like when you can take turns doing something at least one of you love, right?

I'm constantly trying to get her into gaming. One day we bartered that I would go dress shopping with her if she played fifteen minutes of five different PC games. Civilization was one of them. She played it for about an hour and a half, well past the fifteen minutes we agreed upon. We've been playing together ever since.

What other methods of finance tracking did you try before this?

In my article, I mentioned Dave Ramsey and mint.com by name. I'd like to emphasize that these are still good systems. I'm not trying to overthrow whatever grip they have on the personal finance market. It just wasn't for us.

We knew a lot of people who used Dave Ramsey. We were too cheap to pay the fee for the class (ironic, right?), but we were able to glean the basics just from reading about it online. Paying for everything in cash seemed a little impractical. Where I live, I can think of a few areas where I don't want to be carrying around an envelope full of cash.

And mint.com - I had the feeling that I wasn't savvy enough to use it. I felt out of my league. Don't get me wrong, their UI is beautiful, but I would consider myself aggressively minimalist, so it doesn't take too much to overwhelm my preferences - especially with something that stresses me out as much as my finances.

Do you think any other Civ systems could help people in their daily lives?

Maybe if someone figures out a way to track their happiness compared to how many circuses are built in their town?

But seriously, the best advice I can give is: couples should game together. Video games aren't exclusive to basement dwellers. I've had some of the best talks of my life with people while playing video games. Even if it's not Civ, find something you two enjoy. I guess the game itself could improve people's lives.

What’s next for your Civ economics system?

I've rebooted the project in hopes of turning into a public tool that everyone can use. In addition to being open source, I'd like to make it portable enough for people to deploy on their own server - kind of like Wordpress.

Right now, I'm just porting code from my personal project into the new one, taking the time to document things for anyone who might want to contribute in the future.

Do you have anything else you’d like to share with the community-at-large?

Thanks so much for running with this, guys. I had no idea this would get so much attention. I'd like to especially thank reddit.com/r/civ for being the first subreddit to notice my project.

Coders, please check out the new project on github here: https://github.com/arecker/bennedetto. There will be plenty of work to go around soon enough!