Poverty is not a Game


Poverty is not a Game (PING) is an interactive experience developed by GriN to help introduce the concept of poverty into secondary schools. It also explores the ability to teach concepts using a serious game.

Below is a detailed analysis of this game roughly following Brian Winn's1 Design/Play/Experience framework, including:


The outcome of this games is for the players to understand the complications of being impoverished. Most of the interactions with NPCs involve your character getting feedback as to what avenue they should pursue to help them get out of poverty.

  • Inform players about the different organizations that can help them in troubled
  • Teach how to approach situations if ever put in them.
  • Show that there is a metaphorical light at the end of the tunnel that is poverty.


The story is told through the eyes of either Jim or Sophia, each character has a different story. The player begins by choosing one of the two avatars. Sophia a girl who's grandmother has moved into a nursing home due to her poor health forcing Sophia to fend for herself. Jim is a kid who thinks it is time to finally move out of his home and go to the city. Each character goes through different hardships and thus it reflects in how the player must progress that character through their storyline. For instance both characters speak with their siblings as their first mission but Jim is forced to figure everything out one piece at a time and makes poor decisions, while Sophia is given help along the way and is easily introduced to all of the resources she needs to succeed. Both characters experience certain hardships that they must face but the two experiences are very different.


PING consists of the player controlling the avatars and helping them get through hardships without them losing all of their money. You can make choices such as what kind of apartment they can get, the jobs and apprentice opportunities they can apply for along with small decisions like whether to walk or ride the bus to these different objectives. All of these decisions also change their happiness meter. The happiness meter is nearly impossible to run all the way down, but as you do the players icon in the top left displays how they are feeling. There are no other game play elements, simply player NPC interaction there for balance is not an issue. It is very simply a game where it puts you in another person's shoes for a short period helping the player understand how they can approach this issue if it ever arises in their own life. It doesn't have any mechanics that distract from the message other than the lack of detail in the quest display.

User Experience

The map is simple and easily understood, you can select different places you would like to go and it will display the path on both the map and mini map. Inventory is simple and easy for players to use, and the phone menu is a simple scroll through which contacts you would like to speak with. For what it is the UI fits the game very well. Controlling your character is wonky and can get very annoying quickly when you are running around town, especially since you have to rotate your camera and click to move to a certain location. An inclusion of WASD would have been nice instead of just point and click. They didn't stop me from getting anywhere in the game but it got quite annoying to get through doors if I was to close.


Poverty is not a Game is a browser based game that can be easily accessed straight from their website, there is also a CD-ROM version that was published. PING was developed in Unity and I think it was a perfect development tool for a game such as this. It allows for a fully 3D experience in a web browser and doesn't have many issues in web form. I would have chosen Unity if I was planning a point and click 3D game such as this.


I could not find any formal assessment but here is my personal opinion. If I were to assess it I would look at the following.

  • Control group of college students in financially difficult situations (no parents, single parent home, ect) given 3 separate talks on the resources available to them.
  • Test group of students in the same situation but give them PING as an education tool asked to play both the characters stories.
  • Give them a small test on how they would approach different situations before and after exposure to their defined learning tool.


Poverty is not a Game is an interesting concept, it teaches it's lesson by incorporating as few game-like elements as possible and instead ends up being a sort of anti-game in that sense. It reflects its title well though, it feels annoying and tedious to play that game showing that it isn't fun to have to deal with these situations while still presenting it in an interesting medium. I would say that it does well to teach it's goals along with show the path that many individuals in these characters shoes face. Over all I didn't learn as much as I would have hoped about the experience of those in poverty but it spoke to my own financial struggles as a college student. I would say to expand this game further and offer the side of someone who was far more impoverished than the current characters in the game to represent the harder to deal with side of poverty.


  1. Winn, Brian. The Design, Play and Experience Framework. In R. Ferdig (Ed.), Handbook of Research on Effective Electronic Gaming in Education. Hershey, PA: IGI Global, 2009, pp. 388-401.