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Ayiti: the Cost of Life (Part 5)


Welcome to the fifth and final entry in my Ayiti: The Cost of Life game diary. It's been a rough journey, with more than its fair share of sadness, but the outlook seemed pretty good at the conclusion of the previous diary. The family was in fine health, while Marie had finally earned her Baccalaureate Degree. I had hopes of a great final year.


There was no work available for which Marie could put her new qualifications to good use, so I sent her to volunteer with UNICEF. I decided to try the higher standard of living again, which required sending everyone else to work in order to balance the budget. Jean returned to his old job as a rum distiller so that Patrick could do construction work, while Yves headed to the family farm and Jacquline worked as a market woman.

Despite the higher living costs, the family doubled their savings. With everyone happy and Jacquline now joining Yves on a rating of 2 for education, I thought things were in pretty good shape. Yet the game insisted otherwise: "After the third year, your family is in poor shape."

Ayiti - 3rd year over

Into the final year

Unfazed, I pushed on with the plan. I sent John to the hospital and Marie to a clinic so that the parents could work hard for the remainder of the fourth year. I also bought books, since they seemed to have been very helpful in raising education levels. To offset these costs, I decided to keep the children doing the same work as in the previous season.

Savings dropped to a modest 268 goud, as expenses slightly outpaced income. But the family now had high levels of happiness across the board, and excellent overall health.

There was still no job available for Marie to take advantage of her qualifications, so I sent her to work as a rum distiller. The community centre soon opened, thanks to volunteer work by Yves and Patrick, while the family's savings crept up to 395 goud.

The hurricane season brought an opening for Marie to work as a professor, but she lacked the qualifications for the job. I sent her back to vocational school. Jean apparently now had enough education to work as a mechanic, so he switched jobs again. Meanwhile, Patrick went to the hospital and his siblings volunteered.

Ayiti - library built

A library opened at the community centre, which I'm sure would go a long way to improving the family's life. Given the choice to start work on either a Health Information Office or soccer field, I opted to go with the former -- it just seemed more important, after all the health problems I'd witnessed up to this point.

Fighting adversity

Two hurricanes ripped into the family's savings, resulting in money running out -- Marie and Patrick had to go home. At the end of the season, the family was in a debt of one goud. I set living conditions to "decent," since I wasn't sure they could earn enough to cover the cost of "good living."

Ayiti screenshot - Marie secretary

A secretary job finally opened, which Marie promptly snapped up. Jean continued to work as a mechanic, while Patrick did a brief stint on the family farm. Jacquline, whose health had faded considerably during the hurricane season, went to the hospital. And Yves continued in his position as a UNICEF volunteer.

Then the game ended. My four years were up, and it was time to see how I'd done.

Judgement time

Apparently, Marie's Baccalaureate Degree promises a "slightly easier future" for her, but things don't look so great for husband Jean. He was burdened with the role of chief money-earner over much of the four years, and gained little education in that time. I felt a twinge of sadness when I read his future will be an "ongoing struggle to remain above water." You can't save everyone, but it hurts to admit it. And I couldn't help thinking that I could have done more for poor Jean.

While I struggled to find the money to give the children a decent education, they managed to eke out enough knowledge and skills to set themselves up for a brighter future. They'll live better lives than their parents, so I guess that marks my efforts as a success.

Ayiti screenshot - ending

Reflections on the experience

Surprised at how emotional the journey through these diaries had proved to be, I felt that I had gained a greater appreciation -- one that is more practical, less theoretical -- of the trials people must go through to break out of poverty. This very simple game forced me to make tough decisions for which there were no mulligans -- no second chances to right my wrongs. And it required that I make sacrifices for which I really wasn't willing.

But, with a little patience and determination, I managed to help improve the lives of the Guinard family (albeit on the second attempt, after failing miserably on the first). And however tough things were for the family, they were happy throughout the four years.

Posted by Richard Moss (Guest Blogger) in Poverty, Hunger for column Ayiti: the Cost of Life on Mar 15th 2011, 08:58

Ayiti: the Cost of Life (Part 4)


Hello again, dear readers. This is the fourth part of the story of my experience with Ayiti: The Cost of Life, a freely-available online game about poverty in Haiti. After failing to keep my family alive for the full four years, and watching them die one by one while desperately trying to turn things around, I started the game again in the last entry.

This time, I planned out a strategy that I hoped would avoid the hopeless scenario I drove the family into the first time around. It started out pretty well; let's see if they stayed that way.

Ayiti screenshot - construction work description

I saw that either Jean or Patrick could work as a construction worker if the family owned a bicycle; I figured the 350 goud cost of a bike would be a worthwhile investment. Jean left his job as a rum distiller for roughly equivalent pay in the healthier construction work. The cost of the bicycle ate up the family's profits for the season, but seemed to set them up well for the future.

A bumper crop in the hurricane season, combined with Marie's temporary switch to manual labour, helped the family's savings rise to 776 goud going into the dry season. This afforded them the opportunity to rest up. Marie headed off to Vocational School for some more education, while Jacquline worked as a farm hand to ensure money couldn't run out, and the rest went to a clinic.

The game said that the family ended the year in "poor shape," but I was pretty happy with the situation. They'd broken even with their savings while managing to gain some education -- Marie was now up to a rating of 3; the rest sat on 1 (which is one better than where they started). They were all happy. And their health was good -- although Marie was about ready for a trip to the clinic.

A volunteer position opened in the second year, which Yves promptly snapped up. The first half of the year was spent consolidating the family's assets and future well-being. A hurricane and unexpected illness almost destroyed all this effort, leaving the family with just 96 goud going into the dry season.

96 goud at end of hurricane season

Content that at least health was not an issue, I sent everyone off to work -- no-one could rest or go to school lest they enter extreme poverty. Knowing it could well be suicidal, I made sure they still had books for a little self-study -- even though it left them with just 46 goud.

For a change, nothing went wrong. The family earned more than double what they spent that season, bumping their savings way up to 733 goud. As a bonus, Yves's education rating rose to 2. This time, the game agreed with me: "After the second year, your family is in great shape."

Finally ready to raise the family's living conditions to "Good Living," which costs almost 300 goud extra per season, I looked to the future with hope. Construction work was unavailable, so Jean returned to his old job as a rum distiller and Patrick continued as a farm hand. Meanwhile, Marie went back to Vocational School and Jacquline went to the hospital. Much to my delight, Marie's education jumped from 3 to 5, earning her a technical certificate.

When summer came, I decided it was time to send both parents to a clinic -- their health was getting low. The children picked up the slack remarkably well, earning enough to bring the family's savings up slightly (even if that did require a hopefully-temporary return to "Decent Living").

No jobs were available for which Marie was qualified, so she went back to Vocational School. Revelling in the fact that I could rotate the family through the clinic to keep everyone healthy, I sent Patrick and Yves away to get some medical attention.

Ayiti screenshot - Marie earns a Baccalaureat

The good news kept on coming, as the family experienced another bumper crop and Marie earned her first Baccalaureat Degree. Perhaps now, I thought, she would be able to find some high-paying work that would allow the children to get a better education.

Posted by Richard Moss (Guest Blogger) in Poverty for column Ayiti: the Cost of Life on Mar 2nd 2011, 15:16

Ayiti: the Cost of Life (Part 3)


The one-and-a-half years of the Guinard family's journey covered in the previous two diaries (part 1, part 2) was full of both ups and downs, but seemed to be skewing more towards the downs. At the conclusion of the last entry, Jean, the father, was seriously ill, but the family's sizeable debt prevented him from getting treatment. With their health fading, I hoped the rest of the family could earn enough to repay the debt and buy food -- if not pay for medical treatment.

The end of the road

The community centre opened, and the family managed to climb out of debt, but all of this came too late for Jean. He died from cholera, leaving Marie to raise Jacquline, Patrick, and Yves alone. To make matters worse, all four of them were sick. I needed to figure out a way to get everyone serious medical treatment for the measly 138 goud at their disposal.

Ayiti screenshot - Jean dies from cholera

I'm no miracle worker, so things didn't look good. I gambled on a home remedy helping to stave off disease, then sent them all to a clinic for illness. Unsurprisingly, money ran out well before the season ended. Marie was sent home, while the others remained at the clinic -- presumably because no-one will refuse treatment to a child if they can avoid it.

The second year ended with the family clinging to hope by a bare thread. Debt had spiralled to 465 goud. Yves, Patrick, and Jacquline were no longer sick, but all were in poor health nonetheless. Marie's chances of survival were pretty grim, with her illness compounded by a rating of 0 happiness.

Jacquline, the healthiest of the group, went to work on the family farm, where she rapidly deteriorated. Trying to fight her way through a cold, she got bloody diarrhoea, then died from cholera when she returned home. Toeing the line, Patrick reduced the debt to 306 goud, but got a cold and vitamin deficiency in the process.

Ayiti screenshot - Christmas without money

All three -- Patrick, Marie, and Yves -- struggled on for two more seasons, with both boys contracting cholera. Marie died shortly after Christmas. Now orphans in desperate need of medical attention, Patrick and Yves held little chance of survival. But that will remain a mystery, since the game ended there -- if both parents die, you lose.

If at first you don't succeed

Feeling awfully depressed that I could do nothing to save even one of the family members, I took a moment to think about just how firmly the odds were stacked against them. Living so close to the edge, it seems to take just one mistake or misfortune to leave the entire family standing on the brink of collapse. I thought it would all work out, but I overestimated how much work the family could accomplish in poor conditions before succumbing to illness.

Thankfully, being a game, I had the opportunity to undo my mistakes. So I started again, hoping that this time I wouldn't let the family down.

The lack of education caused problems in the previous play-through, since the family could only work the tough low-paying jobs, so I decided to place greater emphasis on education. I also aimed for the more expensive "Good Living" conditions, in hopes that it would enable the family to work harder for less of a health impact. To pay for that education and better living, though, I needed to bring in more money. (And to bring in more money, I needed someone with more education -- it's a vicious cycle.)

I had heard that the women could work as secretaries if given enough education, so I made that the initial target. Marie went off to Vocational School, while Jacquline drew the short straw and signed on as a market woman. I sent both boys to work: Patrick as a farm hand and Yves as a labourer on the family farm. Jean took one for the team and became a rum distiller. I bought books so that everyone would gain a little education.

Ayiti screenshot - starting again

It worked out well. The family's savings rose from the initial 300 goud (minus 50 for the books) to 586. Marie's education level rose to 2. All set to continue as before, I entered the second season hoping that she will soon have enough education to become a secretary.

Posted by Richard Moss (Guest Blogger) in Poverty for column Ayiti: the Cost of Life on Feb 24th 2011, 10:14

Ayiti: the Cost of Life (Part 2)


Welcome to the second entry in my Ayiti: The Cost of Life game diary. Last time, I took charge of the lives of a family of five from a poor community in Haiti. I sent most of the family to work, while the father headed to Vocational School, as I made early strides towards my long-term goal of guiding them out of poverty.

By the end of the first season, the family had spent nearly half their savings -- despite three of the five members working paid jobs -- but Jean, the father, had gained enough education to begin working as a mechanic.

Ayiti screenshot

Life improves, for a while

Out of the rainy season came summer, during which time the schools are closed. I bought books for the family to help them get a little extra study in, then sent them off to work. Yves, the youngest child, headed off to the family farm, while his older brother, Patrick, volunteered with UNICEF to help build infrastructure around the community. Marie and Jacquline took roles as market women, with the promise of long days for modest pay -- but little in the way of health hazard. And Jean put his new training to good use, working as a mechanic.

It was somewhat disappointing to see that Jean's new job only stood to earn the family around 280 goud for the season, which is comparable to what he could earn doing the unhealthy work of a rum distiller. I took respite in the fact that, if it's not particularly well paid, at least he wouldn't be working himself into an early grave. Baby steps -- I figured I needed to first empower the family to work less soul-crushing and health-destroying jobs, then find a way for them to earn more money as they transition to ever-better occupations.

Ayiti screenshot - working through summer

I came up with a rotation system that I hoped would ensure the money kept coming in while someone could always be volunteering, and another could head to the clinic or hospital to rest and recuperate. By the end of the first year, savings had increased to around 500 goud, but I'd been forced to drop -- perhaps a little prematurely, in retrospect -- the standard of living to "poor" in order to balance the budget.

Jacquline and Marie needed medical attention; Yves, Patrick, and Jean would need some soon. Happiness was just beginning to fade away -- even for Yves and Patrick, who had taken on the least difficult jobs in the family.

Just trying to survive

The second year started promisingly, with work beginning on a community centre, but quickly took a turn for the worse. Both Patrick and Yves got sick while volunteering. They returned home to rest, but needed medical attention. Meanwhile, the rest of the family was in fading health. But I couldn't see how they could all get treatment -- there just wasn't enough money, even if everyone made only the cheaper (and less-effective) trip to the local clinic (rather than the hospital).

Jean continued to work as a mechanic, while the others rotated through the clinic. Then he, too, got sick and needed to return home. With no income and rising medical bills, the family quickly ran out of money. Now in extreme poverty, there was no money for either food or medical supplies. Jean had just 2 health and 2 happiness (both out of ten). I feared for his survival.

Ayiti screenshot - Jean diarrhea

It didn't look good for the rest of the family, since they had no money to buy food. But they headed off to work anyway -- Marie and Jacquline as market women, Patrick as a farm hand, and Yves as a volunteer helping to build the community centre. I hoped they could stay healthy long enough to get the family out of the hole.

Posted by Richard Moss (Guest Blogger) in Poverty for column Ayiti: the Cost of Life on Feb 16th 2011, 04:27

Ayiti: Game Diary (Part 1)


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.

Ayiti screenshot

Getting started

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.

Early hardship

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.

Ayiti screenshot

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.

Ayiti screenshot

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.

Posted by Richard Moss (Guest Blogger) in Poverty for column Ayiti: the Cost of Life on Feb 11th 2011, 08:28