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Ayiti: Playing for Keeps

Written by Linda Biondi
August 13, 2010

Video games and young adults sometimes “get a bad rap”. Sponsored by Learning “Playing and the game design company GameLab, a New York-based project is helping kids create and construct serious video games. As educators, we realize that the potential for video games as learning tools is overwhelming.

Students perform better when they are connected, engaged, and meaningfully involved in their work.  In the 1990s, Dennis Harper, founder of Generation YES, developed a program for the Olympia School District in Washington State that engaged students in teaching teachers about technology.  Students helped teachers understand concepts such as PowerPoint and web page design while learning about the various topics in the school curriculum. By encouraging student ownership, meaningful student involvement occurred which directly influenced student literacy.

In 2005, Global Kids Youth Leaders in the Playing for Keeps program chose to design a game that focused on the issue of poverty as an obstacle to education and used Haiti as the location. One of the challenges of designing the game was to produced a game that was realistic and enjoyable to play yet not “preachy”. The students also felt it was important that the game could be replayed so that each time the player would learn more about the relationship between education and poverty.

Ayiti: The Cost of Life is a role-playing video game in which the player assumes the roles of family members living in rural Haiti. At the start of the game, the player chooses a primary goal for his/her family: achieve education, make money, stay healthy, or maintain happiness. During the course of the game, the player encounters unexpected events and must make decisions that contribute to or detract from achieving the chosen goal.

 Ayiti, which means “Haiti” in Creole French, is a computer game set in a fictional village in that impoverished Caribbean nation. Players assume the role of various members of a rural family that is trying to survive in Haiti’s difficult economy. They must balance factors such as the season, the weather, farming conditions and international politics with various life options, such as whether to go to school or work, whether to work in the fields or in a factory, and whether to seek health care. Their choices create various futures for this virtual Haitian family.

 Implications for Learning and Social Awareness

Students are made aware of the frightening fact that life in Haiti is hard and the odds of living from year to year are significantly low. However, this message is gently interwoven into the game, as the students begin to realize that education helps to lower the chances.

Students will be able to:

  • Understand unemployment, income, and income distribution in a market economy
  • Understand how knowledge and skills related to consumer and resources management affect the well-being of individuals, families, and society
  • Exercise careful reasoning while making complex choice and understand how systems are interconnected
  • Examine the impact poverty has on access to education, nutrition, basic healthcare and child mortality.
  • Raise global awareness and learn how to advocate for action to confront poverty
  • Identify problems and formulate solutions
  • Take action by writing to political figures to effect change

Ayiti, a virtual field trip is a very comprehensive game. It can be modified to meet the needs and levels of your students. Playing Ayiti: The Cost of Life is a game that should be introduced to the students as they learn about economic, poverty, social issues. It is important to guide them as they play the game, and for the teacher to experience the game him/herself.  The directions for playing the game are self-explanatory and students can play the game with partners or individually. If they finish earlier, they can either play the game again or research about Haiti. It is important to allow students ample time to reflect on their experiences playing the game, and the implications for social action.

Processing Questions: (retrieved from Unicef)

  • What was it like playing the game?
  • What types of decisions did you have to make about the family members while playing the game and trying to achieve your objective?
  • What strategies did you use? For example, did you combine work and school, or did you send everyone to work? Which worked? Which did not?
  • Why would parents choose to devote so much effort to sending their children to school?
  • How do the situations and options in the game compare with those in your own community?
  • Why might access to education be a challenge in another country?
  • What factors would make it easier for the children in the game to gain access to education? What conditions could be changed and how?

Ayiti: The Cost of Life fits into the category of “serious games”, teaching our students how to be more responsible citizens of the 21st century.

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