It's EGX 2019 weekend! Over the next few days we'll be bringing you quickfire impressions of some of the highlights from the show floor here at London's ExCel centre. You'll find them all here - and if there's anything out there you want to bring to our attention let us know!
What's it like to live on the streets? Fucking awful, I bet. I see it all around me where I live and it breaks my heart. But will I ever really know? Not with any luck, and that's where Change: A Homeless Survival Experience comes in.
It's a pretty simple game. It's side-on and pixelated - it's not a blockbuster or anything like that - and all you really do is walk along a neverending street, entering various buildings like cafes and bars and libraries and pharmacies. If you have the money for it. Money, which you mostly get from begging. Click on people and either be rewarded, judged, ignored or questioned. It's never very nice. And with the money, you can buy essentials like food, blankets, clothes and beer.
The eventual goal is to get a job and rent an apartment, but it will take a Herculean effort to get there. You'll need to study in a library before you can land any job at all. And all the time your hunger is depleting as well as your cleanliness (you will need to wash in public toilets). But the gauge you really have to worry about is happiness. Everything gets you down: begging, illness, bad weather, worry itself when alone at night. Life on the streets gets you down, and if your happiness reaches zero, you're done, Game Over.
At 9pm, your day ends. Either you sleep on the street or in a hostel, if you checked-in in time - the window is small. In the night, events unfold. You can be visited - even beaten up - by other homeless people, or something else might happen, sometimes good, often bad. It plays out in text, and in this way the game says a bit more, a bit more deeply, about being homeless. And it starts to sink in, the bleak reality, even though the graphics are pixelated and even though it is, inescapably, a game experience.
What pulls it through is where it's coming from. It's trying to help educate; it's not trying to cash in on the homeless experience. It's not Bum Simulator - in fact it was created in direct opposition of it, creator Danny Hayes told me at EGX. Change: A Homeless Survival Experience was created to empathise and be positive.
Hayes and team went out and talked to homeless people, made extensive use of research charities share online. They did their homework. For instance, the game has a character select screen where choose a character to play. "What's your story?" it asks. You can choose Addict, Veteran, Poverty, Mental Illness or Abandoned - a more varied spread than many might initially think. And, contrary to popular belief, it's mental illness and not addiction that's the main cause.
It's little things like this that win me round to Change: A Homeless Survival Experience. It's hearing Danny Hayes tell me the game's win screen will be a call to action for people to do more, with links to further information and charities they can donate to. Oh and on that note, Change: A Homeless Survival Experience will donate 20 per cent of its proceeds to Crisis, a homeless charity.
It's not the best game I've played, and it will have a hard time selling. Hayes joked, when I said this, about how much easier it would have been to make something else. But that's not the point. And then, as if by magic, something remarkable happened. A young girl interrupted us, beaming at Hayes. She'd played before. More to the point, she wanted to play again.
Taken aback, I asked why. She told me she liked seeing what life was like for them, for people on the street. She beamed. I was lost for words.