Dec 122012

If you live in Vancouver, or have traveled through Vancouver you will know that the homeless population is exceeding large. There are currently about 3,700 people in Vancouver without a place to call home. Homeless men, women, and children are sleeping on the streets, on a friends couch, or in temporary shelters.

The BC Government is starting to put money back in to social programs and the City of Vancouver just launched a “Vancouver Rent Bank” to assist people who are working and struggling to pay rent. It’s still not enough.

…but imagine this, in a city where the homeless population seems to be growing daily, a local video game company (Last Pick Productions) is stepping up to help. Coming in the spring of 2013 is a game that will spread awareness and help fund programs and advocacy groups to end homelessness in Vancouver.

The name of the game: iBeg.

The idea of the game might lead to controversial opinions. The name itself if rather desolate, but real. Gamers will play as a homeless person, in the form of an avatar. The gamer will experience real life situations in order to earn the means to survive. Some gamers might make a mockery of what it’s like to be homeless. Some gamers might enjoy watching their avatar shower in the street or panhandle in front of the liquor store. To be honest, I was hesitant when I first heard about iBeg. I was concerned that the game would lead to more ignorance about the real suffrage homeless people endure. I was even a little annoyed that someone would profit off creating a game about being homeless. That’s when I decided I ought to contact the designers and see what their real motivation and goals were. I was fortunate enough to connect with the founder of Last Pick Productions and the lead designer of iBeg, Chris Worboys. He expressed his passion behind the game and future goals to me.

So what’s iBeg about?

The main character is a homeless game designer who lost his job because of the reality of the game industry in Vancouver. Game companies are going to cities that have less tax, which leads to fewer jobs. Gamers will take care of the main character, a cute little avatar, and try to make sure he survives the mean streets of Vancouver’s East side. The hope is that by expressing empathy for their avatar, gamers will become more compassionate about the reality of homelessness.

You can find friends to raise money with!

As the main character struggles to find his way off the streets, it is the gamers job to try and keep him healthy, happy, and clean. In order to stay healthy, your avatar will need food and shelter. To do this, you will have to find ways to earn money. Panhandling, busking, bottle collecting and bartering are some of the skills needed. Also, you will need to ensure your avatar is happy. You can find happiness through social interactions and small purchases. Finally, hygiene is something to keep in mind while keeping your avatar happy. While it’s might be seen as distasteful to have a hygiene bar associated with a game about homelessness, the Sims have one and it showed how being clean actually affected their mental, physical, and social well-being.

Of course in reality, people who are homeless often have trauma, concurrent disorders and coping mechanisms that should be considered. If there is a demand to see more reality with various avatars and individualized life stories, Chris Worboys told me they would consider developing it.

The idea behind the game came from lead designer, Chris. He is a fairly new game designer and was inspired to create iBeg after looking out the window on his commute to and from work. He was able to see the poverty and homeless people on the Vancouver streets. Chris is hoping that iBeg will show people that commute with a phone in their hands, what is happening around them. He told me that “we wanted to take an issue we felt strongly about, and put it back in front of them in an engaging manner; a game that would make them look up from their phone and think twice about the person sleeping on the sidewalk, and the hardships they endure on a daily basis”. Once people are aware of what’s happening around them, hopefully they are more inclined to help.

In order to support the idea behind iBeg, I first needed to know what sort of “real” community supports were being shared with the gamers. I wanted to see iBeg used as an educational game. I was curious if iBeg had links to real community supports that could offer the player some real life information on supports. Chris Worboys assured me that the game uses current community supports; “In the game itself, we hope to also use real buildings of charities in Vancouver and showcase some of the services they provide. It would be nice to be able to have the homeless avatar be able to go and get a free meal in the game from a charity, or able to sleep in one of the downtown shelters provided for them”. By including real places and locations it will set forth an understanding of services available. Maybe iBeg will be able to include a list of links for local charitable organizations (food banks, shelters, clothing drives, medical services, free meals, legal advice, recovery programs, mental health services, and financial assistance).

iBeg will be released in the Spring of 2013. The purchase of iBeg and in-game purchases will directly help the homeless living in Vancouver. Proceeds of purchases go to local charitable organizations and homeless advocacy groups. Last Pick Productions isn’t profiting off a game about homelessness, actually they are requesting help with a Kickstarter to get the game developed and released on schedule. iBeg will help fund programs that directly support homeless in Vancouver, and the real-time stats for money raised and support provided for the homeless people of Vancouver will be accessible in the game.

The idea behind iBeg is close to my heart as I work in a safe house for women and children fleeing domestic abuse. I know what it’s like to connect with people who are homeless at no fault of their own. Over the past couple years I have seen the barriers and struggles that people go through to avoid ending up on the streets. I am pleased to say that after connecting with Chris and understanding the anticipated direction of iBeg, I think it is a fantastic game and I can’t wait to play it.

iBeg: A Game For Social Change Kickstarter

Last Pick Productions: creators of iBeg

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