Photo: Gizmodo

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Can you turn Haiti into a game?

With spring in the air, time for this blog to emerge from hibernation...

And what better way than a moral question. I came across on the Global Poverty Project website a game which has been developed by a group of children from Brooklyn, NY who are involved in a project to develop online games run by Global Kids Online Leadership program. The game I came across is called, "Ayiti: The Cost of Life" and it involves "Helping the Guinard family to make ends meet and get ahead in their poverty-stricken homeland, Haiti. In this sometimes tragic and always challenging simulation game, you help the parents, Jean and Marie, and their children, Patrick, Jacqueline, and Yves, make decisions about work, education, community building, personal purchases, and health care that might brighten their future."

According to Global Kids' website, "During the 2005-2006 school year, Global Kids Youth Leaders in the Playing for Keeps program at South Shore High School gained leadership, research, and game design skills while producing a socially conscious online game, Ayiti: The Cost of Life ( The youth chose to design a game that focuses on the issue of poverty as an obstacle to education and uses the country of Haiti as a case study. The game and its associated curriculum were released through UNICEF’s Child Alert: Haiti website(...) Since it was released in October 2006, hundreds of thousands of people have played Ayiti. The game and the after school component are being evaluated by the Center for Children and Technology."

I played the game to see what it was about (this morning the link is down for some reason). The game is user friendly and has been well designed by the kids. But no matter how hard I tried, the Guinard family kept dying on me, one by one, as I ran out of money and they got too sick to work or go to school. 

The game certainly made me think about the challenges extreme poverty brings to a family in Haiti: health, education, lack of money and decent work, hurricanes. There are even pop ups occasionally telling you it's Carnival and how happy the community are to celebrate, so you get small glimpses of the culture.

The game also made me think about what Haitian kids would think of this game about trying to keep alive and flourish their fellow citizens. I couldn't find anywhere on the website reaction from Haitians.

It also made me think about the extent to which it is fair for people to learn about a country based principally on its hardship. What you come away with from the game is how harsh and fragile life is in the country. More often than not, the game will end in the death of the family after about 15 minutes play, in which time 2 or 3 years have gone by in the life of the family. 

What's missing is a real insight into how people really live to really do justice to the struggle of the Haitians (or any people come to that). How do Haitian children spend their day, how do they help their family, what games do they play, what are their hopes and dreams? 

I think it's a great idea to learn about a country through a game. But my question is whether it is morally acceptable to learn about a country through a game in which people die?


  1. I've been able to take the family through the full 4 years with relative success that is the parents finish vocational school and all of the children get at least Level 4 education.
    I think your family keeps dying because you're not willing to make the sacrifices, the father HAS to go to the rum factory every season, the youngest boy works on the farm and the mother and daughter have to be market women during the 1st year so the oldest son can go to school. They're generally miserable until four things happen, the oldest boy finishes school (Level 4/5) and can work as a mechanic, and you can afford a bike, livestock and the 3rd level of living.
    Once that happens you can send the parents to vocational school while the kids work, the kids will be miserable and you'll probably come dangerously close to debt. But once it's over the parents can work as a secretary and a mechanic, and the kids can enjoy public school and almost all the upgrades.

  2. Thanks for your comment which I've only just seen. My point was more about the ethical issues of turning the lives of the poorest in Haiti into a game. I'd be interested to know whether playing the game has led you to want to know more about how people in Haiti live their lives in reality?