Devastating Poverty: The Game

June 14, 2012; Source: Mashable

The nonprofit group 58: is a Christian-based group dedicated to “end[ing] extreme poverty in our lifetime.” The group’s name is derived from the Biblical passage of Isaiah 58: “to loose the chains of injustice…to set the oppressed free…to share your food with the hungry…to provide the poor wanderer with shelter…when you see the naked, to clothe them.” The group’s latest endeavor, Mashable reports, is an online game, Survive125, in which users must make decisions as to how they will live on only $1.25 per day (an income rate that, the game tells users, is known to 26 percent of the world’s people). Users take on the character of Divya Patel, a fictional 26-year-old woman in India whose decisions include whether to pay for a school uniform or remove her son from school and whether to allow her daughter to work at a facility that is said to be connected to sex trafficking. You can try the game out for yourself here.

Survive125 is not the first game of this kind. For instance, Urban Ministries of Durham, N.C. created a somewhat similar game, SPENT, which challenges users to survive after losing a job in the U.S. The goal of these types of online games is clearly to raise awareness among the more fortunate about the conditions that many others must endure, and we don’t doubt that the makers of such games have nothing but the best intentions. Nonetheless, we suspect that something about turning the conditions and harsh choices of extreme poverty into a “game” may strike the wrong note with some people. What do you think? Are such games useful awareness builders or do they cheapen what should be a serious discussion on poverty? –Mike Keefe-Feldman