Editor's note: Someone's made-up game isn't normally something I would think to promote, but Brian's idea is a little larger than that. He thinks that people could use video games as tools to educate themselves about experiences that fall outside of the purview of their own daily lives. -James


ExperiencePeople mostly view video games as a form of entertainment, but many individuals also recognize their value as a learning tool. Since the advent of personal computers, games developers and teachers have realized that students can learn basic concepts through video games. Developers of non-educational software have recognized this as well, but they tend to teach through more subtle means.

In addition to testing reflexes, popular and niche games alike often include puzzles, the ability to make decisions, and themes relevant to the modern world. Games such as Tales of Symphonia and Dragon Age: Origins have both touched on racism's effect on personal development and relations with other people, while games such as Xenogears and Final Fantasy Tactics reveal complex political struggles, the abuse of power by religious institutions, and the imperialism of many religions. Even more recent releases such as Lost Odyssey and Final Fantasy 13 have themes that players anywhere in the world can relate to.

 Many other games are worth mentioning, too, such as the deluge of open-world titles in recent years, psychological thrillers like Silent Hill, and dating sims in the vein of Persona 3, but I would like to expand on current teaching methods in games. I want to place us in the bodies of individuals we don't understand for the purpose of reducing our ignorance of the world around us.

While pondering experiences gamers might find interesting, I realized that fun would also need to be an integral component. If the gameplay came across as stale or generic, gamers would stick with familiar fare, so I attempted to craft experiences that would be both meaningful and entertaining.

 

The first of my experiential games puts players in the body of a homeless person. This particular character is the player. It can be any gender, ethnicity, and age. This homeless character can come from a variety of backgrounds — just as in Mass Effect.

Mass Effect

You can be a runaway teen who lived through his drug addict father's brutal beatings and left school and his rundown rental home behind. Another choice is a war veteran who saw unspeakable atrocities while abroad and now struggles with alcoholism, isolationism, and a deep depression. It's also possible to be a laid-off power plant employee. He can't find a job because no blue collar jobs available, and he struggles on his own without an emotionally supportive family or friends.

Instead of aiming to save the world, defeat terrorists, or aiding a "helpless" female, your focus is survival. During your day-to-day existence, you'll need to acquire money, food, and possibly even medicine or illegal drugs if you're playing as a character struggling with addiction. You'll also want to seek shelter and find a job  even though it's possible to survive without both.

Regardless of what character you choose, you live in the same urban environment. It's possible to travel by foot, bus, bikes, and cars. Walking will make you more fatigued thanother methods — especially if you haven't had much food or rest. Bikes are more reliable and less tiring, but they can easily be stolen and are costly to reacquire. The bus is a valuable option if you're close enough to a stop and have enough change, but you'll also have to deal with discrimination, which can result in a deeper depression. Cars are the ideal way to get around, but it's difficult to convince NPCs (non-player characters) to give you a ride, unless you select the optimal choices in a dialogue tree.

Homeless

The purpose of your quest is to first secure a job, then find a home. These accomplishments reward you with the best ending, but it's also possible to complete the game by dying or ending up in prison.

What makes this title particularly interesting is your complex interactions with NPCs and your methods of acquiring food and possessions. In order to obtain money, you'll need to rob stores and fellow humans or find creative ways to entice citizens to cough up some chump change. It's also possible to make money through instruments, which you'll play in rhythm mini-games.

More absurd behavior can net even great rewards. You can earn a few greenbacks by performing cartwheels in the middle of busy streets, making Jesus signs, or run a shell game.

Your daytime experiences will certainly feel hellish, but the nighttime is even more grueling. Aside from finding a lukewarm place to stay, you'll have to deal with individuals looking down upon you, pranksters, and thugs who're out to kill you.

Old man

Before sleeping, you'll have to decide whether or not to drink alcohol, which can affect your alertness level. It's important to remain alert — especially if you're in a particularly dangerous area. Mean-spirited individuals will attempt to beat you to death, set you on fire, and steal your coat or sleeping bag (if you have one).

During these situations, you can fight if you have a weapon (or your fists if you have a fighting background), you can attempt to flee, or you can try to talk them out of fisticuffs with smart selections in a dialogue tree. If you're lucky, you might even be able to get a citizen to hop out of a car and enter the fray.

You'll also have to keep a close eye on the police as they'll often force you to move to different areas. Successfully evading them can diminish the nuisance the cops create, which results in less travel and more sleep.

If you're overly emotional or your depression continues to worsen, you'll need to find medication or illegal drugs to deal with your pain, unless there are people nearby who're willing to help. The hope is that your character's life-threatening experiences might generate empathy and move the hearts of ignorant individuals who view all homeless people as lazy bums.

Sign

It's possible to overcome this stereotype by searching for jobs and holding up signs. More often than not, you'll be kicked out of a store due to your lack of personal hygiene. You'll often fail to find employment due to not having a home phone or a place to stay, but occasionally, you'll find temporary work which can lead to a permanent position if your sanity remains while working in a depressing environment.

Repetition is the biggest concern with this title that puts you in the shoes of a homeless person, but with enough variety, it could make for a satisfying ten hour experience. The ultimate goal of my first experiential game is to create a greater understanding of homelessness while simultaneously providing entertainment. While not as valuable as volunteering at a soup kitchen or a mission, this experiential game will allow busy individuals to become more understanding and will remind us to aid fellow human beings in whatever ways we can.