A Review of the Educational Game: Ayiti - the Cost of Life

For this assignment, I decided to play the game Ayiti -the Cost of Life. Although it features an upbeat soundtrack and perky cartoon characters, there is a seriously dark undertone about it that relates to the dismal lives many lead in the incredibly poor and ill-fated country of Haiti.

The player of the game is responsible for controlling the daily lives of the Guinard’s, a family of five that is struggling to get by in rural Haiti. The father and mother are doing their best to give their sons and daughter the best lives possible. The family has a simple home and a farm that earns them a little money. The parents have very little education, but they're working to help their kids get an education and improve their chances for a comfortable life.

The Guinard family faces many difficult challenges resulting from poverty, severe weather, illness and other unforeseen circumstances. It is the players responsibility to make the right choices for the family in order to ensure their survival. The players is given four years to help the family as they confront life’s continual struggles. The goal in this game is to help the family get an education and improve their lives.

Each of the game’s four years is divided into sixteen seasons. At the beginning of the season, you give each family member a role, including work, school, or volunteering. Once every character is assigned to a role, the player clicks the "START SEASON" button to start the season. During the course of the season, the characters perform their assigned roles. Situations occasionally appear which change the conditions of the job, and lead the player to have them work hard or work casually. Special events also occasionally pop up that affect the family's income such as Carnival and Summer vacation.

Each member of the family has a set of statistics. They include health, happiness, emotional well-being and education. The family also has a money total. The money is spent on school tuition, living conditions and items in a store. Running out of money means running out of food, and bad conditions for the whole family. One of the main goals of the game is to keep the family healthy and happy for all four years. If both parents die, the game is over. If they survive, your success is measured in the education your family received.

This game appears simple on the surface but proves to be incredibly challenging the more you play it. Having to simultaneously control all of the characters while maintaining their finances, health and education is no small feat, especially since the seasons pass in 3-5 minute durations. There are many skills needed to succeed at the game but the most important skill is multitasking. The player must assess which combination of duties fits best for each character and switch them up depending on variables like weather, which can change in a matter of seconds. Another crucial skill needed is responsible money spending. The family barely makes enough money to survive by tilling their land and working degrading, low paying jobs like bottling rum. If money isn’t spent efficiently, the family will go broke which will eventually lead to starvation and death.

This game utilizes a lot of different methods of teaching. Dialogue is constantly popping up along the way that provides the player feedback regarding the family’s status and upcoming events. These messages are an example of James Paul Gee’s Explicit Information On-Demand and Just-In-Time Principle, in which the learner is given explicit information both on demand and just in time, when the learner needs it or just at the point where the information can best be understood and used in practice. The only rewards the game offers is the survival of the family, which I consider to be a little too serious and morbid for children.

To conclude, I think this is a very challenging and engaging game that could benefit a lot of students while teaching them about poverty and life in Haiti. The mechanics and game play are fluid and fast paced. It is very reminiscent of games such as The Oregon Trail, Rollercoaster Tycoon and Pandemic. To be perfectly honest, I am terrible at games like this. I played it three times and couldn’t get any farther than halfway through the family’s second year. Even though I thought I was making the right decisions for my family, I failed to foresee the impact of several important events that ended up rendering them penniless and ruining their health. Every family member ended up getting a flu, which developed into bloody diarrhea and eventually death. Even though this game has a lot to offer, I would hesitate when recommending it to others based on the unsettling and disturbing realities of poverty if forces the player to endure.

Explicit Information On-Demand and Just-In-Time Principle – The learner is given explicit information both on demand and just in time, when the learner needs it or just at the point where the information can best be understood and used in practice.