After highlighting a webcomic a few posts back, I wanted to mention a relatively recent ‘serious video game’, called “Ayiti, the Cost of Life.”
You can find it here or here, and it doesn’t take too long to download if your internet connection is feeling generous.
An organisation called Global Kids produced the game a couple of years back with the help of Gamelab and the support of Microsoft; and teamed up with Unicef to host it and promote it.
Truth be told, it’s a fairly miserable experience, as you attempt to nurse mum, dad and three kids from poverty to prosperity. My family started off well enough, sending kids to school and getting a job in a distillery, but within a couple of seasons everyone was ill, depressed, flat broke, in debt and… well, I kind of quit at that point.
Here is a distressing message I received early on in the game:
After the first year, your family is in terrible shape. The Guinard family’s wealth suffered greatly this year. Take care to ensure the family gets its basic needs. The family’s overall health diminished significantly this year. Jean, Marie, Patrick, Jacquline and Yves had a particularly hard year, greatly deteriorating in health. The family had an opportunity to study and increase its education.
The game implies that with the right strategy you can pull yourself out of your predicament, perhaps one day buy yourself a computer and other first world appliances – so the tantalising prospect of a better life is dangled before you. But the grim toll of poverty is made abundantly clear.
Perhaps too clear, in fact. This is a difficult game, and the message it sends is so bleak one wonders what room it leaves for human dignity: surely a crucial component in any socially conscious game.
My other, lesser, gripe was that it managed to sneak in a few blatant promotions for Oxfam and Unicef, sending an unfortunate message about reliance on aid agencies. Then again, it is what it is.
Still, I do think this was an important attempt to use the awesome communicative power of games to educate the rich on the grinding challenge of being poor.
I’m going to have another shot at it. Maybe I shouldn’t have bought that radio.