Kariton Life is an educational game based on experiences of homelessness in the Philippines.
- Context: Personal Project
- Role: Research, Design & Development
- Rosey Gueco (design, code)
- Cheenie Bautista (visual design)
- Mikko Quizon (music)
- Nicole Ocampo (research)
"Kariton" in Filipino means "cart", which is typically used by the homeless to gather the scrap material they sell at junk shops. This game is based on previous ethnographic research with a homeless family in Manila, Philippines.
The user plays the role of a homeless couple living a community of slum-dwellers while taking care of their three young children. Their goal is to earn as much money as possible while also balancing their own physical and emotional needs. Meanwhile, the game is punctuated by random encounters that reveal the homeless' social life, their vulnerabilities and their complex relationships with various institutions like the police, non-profits and the government.
The project is inspired by an anthropological project I have done in my undergraduate days, where I interviewed a homeless community in Manila, Philippines.
In 2011, I coordinated with a religious non-profit and volunteered at their feeding program to gain access to homeless families. I interviewed them about personal stories of poverty, migration, resilience and resistance.
Most of the people I met were migrants from rural areas who sought work in the capital. Even though city life did not meet their expectations, they prefer life on the streets over unemployment in the countryside.
Everyday they make ends meet by scavenging, managing scant resources, while raising families at the same time. Their experiences highlight cases of social vulnerabilities (e.g., inadequate healthcare, susceptibility to trafficking) and complex relationships with institutions that view them both as a problem and an object of charity.
The scenarios and terminologies encountered in this game, such as sources of income, community kinship and allegations of police brutality, are based on the information I gathered from this research.
DESIGN GOALS, CONTENT and structure
As part of a Computer Science course at the University of the Philippines, we were tasked to create a game. My partner Rosey and I agreed on creating something with social relevance, and she liked my idea of basing a game based on my research.
We set up a design document that outlined the goals, variables, mechanics and level design of our game.
Implicitly, I wanted to simulate the self-perpetuating cycle of homelessness and to demonstrate how it’s simply not easy to “escape” poverty, contrary to the popular adage that hard work will lead you to a path of prosperity.
Once we have the structure and content fleshed out, I created wireframes of the layout of the game and its different elements.
I pitched my game idea with two friends of mine who volunteered to help me out with the images and the audio. Cheenee is a graphic designer, and I shared with her my storyboards and ideas on visual design. Mikko, a sound engineer, he provided me with music that is in line with my idea of a "bittersweet Filipino game show" (Game shows are very popular in the Philippines, and they're known to feature extravagant prizes and sad stories from poor contestants).
Finally, we made the game using Pyglet, a game development package on Python.
The basic mechanic of the game is for the couple to navigate different institutions to balance basic needs around health and happiness, while saving for a better life.
WHAT I LEARNED
Simulating a complex social situation through game design is something I have always wanted to do. It was a delicate balancing act to present information faithful to the research while respecting people's stories and creating a fun and yet serious experience.
Following a structured process - from clearly knowing the vision of the game down to the arrangement of elements and variables - made designing this game easier and more straightforward.
What I wish I could have done is conduct a playtesting session with both paper and digital prototypes. This way I would have had a way to assess if the game mechanics are immersive and challenging, or it wears off after a few rounds. I would have loved to find out people's reactions to the game to gauge if it works as an educational tool apart from being an artistic project.