The Toolkit 4 Making Social Issue Games produced by Games for Change is a terrific primer on the state of the industry on serious or social issue games development. This toolkit provides a series of video presentations by leading proponents in the serious games arena and is a great way to start thinking about what’s out there and what’s possible.
In one of the presentations within the toolkit Barry Joseph, Director of the Online Leadership Program for Global Kids, talked about the planning and production of a game called Ayiti, the Cost of Life. “Ayiti” is the Creole word for “Haiti.
In the game itself you have a family in a village in Haiti and you need to guide them through a series of activities over the course of four years where the family members try to earn money on the farm or at various jobs, you try to provide education for the children, stay healthy as long as possible, and generally confront the “cost of life.”
There are some remarkable aspects to this game and it’s development process that go far beyond just the programming and playability factor. Here’s a few things that I took away from reviewing the presentation by Joseph on the development of the game, as well as from playing the game itself:
Urban students participating in a Global Kids initiative identified the key idea of the game to address Health and Education as a global human right. They chose the place the setting of the game in the country of Haiti, which has the highest rate of infant, under-five and maternal mortality in the Western hemisphere, and where only half of primary school-age children are enrolled in school.
Global Kids, a non-profit organization dedicated to building leadership and global citizenship skills in urban young people partnered with game developer Gamelab, through funding provided my Microsoft, during a year-long iniative to design and develop the entire curriculum and game experience. Global Kids also developed workshops with support materials for teachers that help young people integrate and act upon what they encounter in the game.
Learning by Engagement
The game is a great example of social issue games where instead of just learning about social issue statistics, or seeing images or even watching video presentations, you are immersed in the challenge itself. While playing the game I was faced with making very difficult choices like, the father needs to work in the factory to make money to help his family survive, but he has come down with tuberculosis. Or there is only enough money to send one of the three children to the local school, and the other children have to work on the farm, or the family and community is devastated by a hurricane and have to rebuild their lives.
The game is challenging, both on a social level and in the gameplay itself. It’s difficult to win, as it should be, since it’s based on very real and terribly difficult challenges families living in poverty in Haiti face every day.