Back in 2006, a group of high school students in the Global Kids' Digital Media Initiative joined forces with a group of game developers to create a flash game about the challenges of living in -- and rising out of -- poverty. The product of their collaboration was called Ayiti: The Cost of Life.
The game puts you in charge of a family in Haiti that has "a simple home and a farm that earns them a little money." None of the five family members have any education to speak of, and their community seems to have little of anything. Over four years, you must help the family confront the "cost of life" by managing their money and individual wellness (health), happiness, and education levels, in the hope that they can rise out of poverty -- or at least move toward such a goal.
In this series of diaries, I will describe my experience with the game -- providing a story to fit my decisions and actions, together with their repercussions.
The game asks you to select a strategy to emphasise upfront, offering the choices Health, Education, Money, or Happiness. I got the impression that my choice would affect the scenario in some way, so I took my time in making a decision. I immediately discounted money -- I'm no Ebenezer Scrooge. Education seemed like a good choice, but I've always felt that it, too, is valueless without health or happiness.
I picked health based on its in-game description as "the most important thing to take care of -- if the whole family is dead, you lose." There's no arguing with that; notwithstanding one's beliefs for or against an afterlife, you can't be rich, happy, or smart when you're dead.
Somewhat to my confusion, I was told that success is measured according to the family's education -- the more baccalaureates (that's a fancy word for degrees) in the family, the better I've done. That doesn't strike me as an appropriate (sole) measure of success, especially given the preceding choice.
It quickly became clear to me just how difficult a task this would be -- the parents' lack of education locked them out of well-paying jobs, while none of the schooling options appeared certain to provide a worthwhile education. Meanwhile, a "decent" living cost more than could be earned by the two parents and one of the children. This called for a careful juggling act to keep the family from descending into either a spiral of debt or a lifetime of working hard just to survive.
I bought shoes, which cost one-fifth of the family's 300 goud savings, to make work a little easier, and some books and supplies, which cost a similar amount, to help everyone get a little education. Much to my delight, all five family members gained an instant boost to their education rating -- from 0 to 1.
I saw that Jean -- the father -- could get work as a mechanic if he gained a greater education, so I sent him off to Vocational School at a cost of 98 goud. We couldn't really afford it, but I hoped it would serve the family well in the future. To keep the family afloat, Marie -- the mother -- signed up for the unhealthy role of a Rum Distiller, which was the highest paying job available at an "average" income of 308 goud per season.
The estimated cost of living was 560 goud per season, though, so we needed lots more money to have any chance of breaking even. I sent teenagers Patrick and Jacquline to work on the family farm, since they were not eligible for any other available paid work. They were expected to earn just 84 goud each, but, thanks to a generous food and clothing donation from the Church, managed a little more than that.
By the end of the season, the family had just 161 goud remaining. This didn't bode well for the future, but Jean had gained enough education to qualify for that job as a mechanic. I hoped that would turn things around.
Tune in next time to see if I can guide the family to a better -- albeit only slightly -- life and brighter future.