Begging, Giving, and Gamification

I have lived in New York City for just over two years now and I am ashamed to admit that the homeless faces that frequent the subways, sidewalks, and parks now make less of an impression on me. Maybe the modus operandi for a New Yorker requires this sort of numbing to homelessness or just the fact that New York City seems to be, at times, overrun with the problem. Whatever the case may be, my wide-eyed eagerness to help whenever I could has faded.

Last Pick Productions, a Vancouver videogame studio, has created an application to (hopefully) help remedy this problem. The app, called iBeg, is expected to release in the spring of 2013 and is meant to simulate the life of a homeless person. A player is given a homeless avatar and is charged with the responsibility of keeping that avatar fed, clean, and protecting it against the harsh elements that come with living on the street. There are a few different options a player can choose so that their homeless avatar can earn money: simply beg pedestrians, play an instrument, or create a story like you just need money to fix your car.

As you become more accustomed to life on the street and start making wiser choices, your avatar will be given the opportunity to level up their street smarts in order to become more proficient. And the money that is earned from odd jobs can be used to unlock more content within the game.

But Last Pick Productions wasn’t just trying to allow a user to feel, even if it’s in the comfort of their own home and just through a virtual world, what it might be like to be homeless. There was also a desire to create a real-world impact by directing a portion of the money users spend on in-game purchases to charities.

On paper, iBeg seems like a fantastic concept. They always say that you can’t really know a person until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes. And while the shoes in this instance are virtual, perhaps this game can raise awareness about what it’s like to be homeless and the donated portions can really make a difference.

On the other hand, is homelessness really something that should be gamified? I’m not so sure. I doubt a homeless person would take me seriously if I said I was trying to know what he or she feels like by way of a virtual world on my iPad. You can’t really know how it feels to sleep outside in NYC in January unless you’ve done it, right? What do you think, good or bad idea?

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