Gaming With A Cause: Stop Disasters!

Well folks, I know I talk about a lot of things here at Gastrogamer. Everything from modern video games, to indie video games, to games that have one button inputs, to games that have causes attached. Today it’s no different, as I’m bringing you guys a very simple game promoted by the ISDR [ International Strategy for Disaster Reduction ] called Stop Disasters! The game was developed by a little indie company called Playerthree, and while it may look simple, the information it provides is life saving.

The concept of the game is this:

  • You are given 5 scenarios to choose from at the start of the game:
    • Hurricane
    • Flood
    • Tsunami
    • Wild Fire
    • Earthquake
  • You are given 3 Difficulty settings per scenario:
    • Easy [ Small Map ]
    • Medium [ Medium Map ]
    • Hard [ Large Map ]

You enter the scenario and immediately you’re put in a position of power. The interface loads and explains to you the area in which the disaster is going to take place, who is this going to affect, and the tasks, money, and time you have to aid them. It may not seem like much, especially when you witness that the UI of the game contains very stagnant 8-bit grid visuals, but the information provided by each play through, I personally believe is what the true benefit of this game shines in.

Devastation after Hurricane Katrina in 2005

The Japan Tsunami 2011

Haiti Earthquake 2010

It seems now like every year a natural disaster occurs somewhere in our world. In the past few years I’ve experienced more reporting on natural disasters than I care to recollect. Every event from Hurricane Katrina to the most recent Japanese Tsunami/Earthquake – and even now, just this year, we were riddled with tornadoes in the United States.

The massive devastation that all of these events cause is outrageous, and the death tolls for most of these events would drive any man, or woman, sick to their stomaches with agony and despair. This is why I personally feel this game is important, because it helps provide players with information on how to better prepare themselves for when disasters strike.

Indiana Tornadoes 2012

The ISDR has made it their mission to provide students, parents, and children with information about the dangers of disasters and how we as human beings can do something to stop them. They take you through precautionary measures and as you go through the game and complete tasks, certain tasks you complete will bring up information sheets about why the task you completed was pertinent to the survival of the people in the area. I personally found the game to be engaging, fun, and educational.

Stop Disasters Screenshot. It may not look like much, but it can save lives.

True, the UI is rather stagnant, because it doesn’t move as you change tiles around, upgrade housing, etc. and so it can look quite boring, but the knowledge you learn is the intriguing factor here. You find yourself wanting to learn more and more about disaster relief efforts, and when your funds finally run out, or the buzzer finally goes off, you’re anxiously anticipating to see if you did well.

I found that there was a drastic pull of emotion that I felt when each scenario started. I wanted each of those virtual people [ moving or not ] to live. I wanted to find out if I had done enough to save them, and I think that speaks a lot to human nature and our sense of compassion for others.

This is amazing. Students learning through the power of a video game.

So today, I urge you to take a look at this game:

Stop Disasters! Game

It’s simple, it’s educational, and it’s fully accessible. Every button can be accessed with a single button click and each tile can be changed just as easily. The educational value of this title, far outweighs the visual appeal of the title – so don’t let the bland 8-bit grid scheme fool you. There is value here, and I hope that by playing this and gaining information via their website will help aid people with the knowledge of preventative measures for the future.

Take care folks! Thank you for playing! and I hope this message of hope and education spreads!

Gaming With A Cause: Spent

Today’s Game of the Week relates to recent topics that I’ve discussed on Gastrogamer. If readers will remember my admiration of Jane McGonigal, then you’ll see why I think this game would fit fondly into her game design forte. McGonigal is all about the development of humanity through gaming, and Spent gives a player to experience a part of the human society that I think sometimes we can overlook. Spent was developed by the Urban Ministries of Durham and a company called McKinney. Urban Ministries of Durham help in serving homeless shelters and providing for food for impoverished families in Durham, NC. The goal of Spent is to give players a chance to see if they can deal with the same hardships that many people go through daily.

Can you live for a month on 1000 dollars?

The game is pretty simplistic as far as mechanics go. The game only requires a mouse click to choose options, but what makes this game unique is that each choice you make is important to your survival and completion of the game. You log on and immediately you are thrown into an interface that challenges you with a premise:

“Urban Ministries of Durham serves over 6,000 people a year. But you’d never need help would you?”


The immediate human response that we get when challenged is to prove to others, as well as ourselves, that we can do the scenario that’s been posed to us. Spent forces the player to be in the position of an alternate scenario as if it was their own life. Each decision you make is met with trivia that expresses the hardships of low-income families. This game touched me emotionally, because it gives life a different perspective and makes you value every humbling reward of your life. You value your families successes, your financial security, your insurance, etc. You learn to appreciate your own life as you play through this game. This is why I recommend at least viewing it.

People often need aid from others, thus the Facebook attachments to the game, provide an even more realistic view to this simplistic game. Everyone, on occasion, requires the need to lean on other people for assistance. This game teaches us that we can’t always rely on ourselves to make it through our struggles, but sometimes we need to look to our friends and family for aid. It really opens up our eyes to the value of friendship and love and how hardships can bring individuals together.

I think the best portion of this game was the music though, because it gives a foreboding suspense to every decision you make throughout the game. This game is enlightening and gives an eye-opening experience that I feel like movies and television can’t even begin to grasp. Movies and television only allow us to visually experience a scenario, but given a game that puts us in the position of poverty, Spent gives us an even deeper understanding of the seriousness of our financial crisis and poverty.

I recommend this game, because games like this give us a deeper view of the world going on around us. It may seem like a depressing, dark, and foreboding game, but overall, the emotional impact of the gameplay is worth taking the challenge for. You can learn more about the Urban Ministries of Durham here:

Hopefully more games like this will come to fruition in the future, so that we can clearly see challenges that happen every day in our human society. We may sit at home and feel so secure, but in an instant, anyone can become unemployed, homeless, or living paycheck to paycheck. I feel so passionate about this movement, especially since the designers come from an area close to where I grew up. I would love to see more games discuss real human difficulties.

Please don’t give me more zombie apocalypses, or space warfare. These games are unrealistic and give me, and many players, fantasy realms to escape our dire realities from. If we spent more time as designers focusing on human hardships, relationships, and struggles ; then perhaps we can find cures, aid, and suggestions for some of our societies biggest problems. How many hit-points does my orc’s armor have in World of Warcraft? – I pray is not someone’s end-all-be-all lifetime concern for this world. If so, I really hope they consider the many struggles others are going about life with before they see their lack of proficient raiding armor as “a struggle.”

Now does that mean that all games should be ultra-realistic and I want to see all fantasy games destroyed? No, not at all, but I think a lot of games can take a page out of Spent’s playbook by giving players problems to solve and decisions to make. Bioware, Blizzard, and many MMO companies have been good at trying to implement these aspects into their games, but the truth is, they’re only aiding in solving fantasy problems.Where is the game where our fantasy hero is a person, not some fantasy Spartan, or some inhuman fantasy character who can tinker his, or her, way out of everything?

I want to feel like my choices in a game make a difference, teach me something that I wouldn’t have learned without playing it, give me a deeper understanding of the world around me. These are the types of games I look forward to going forward in the history of our world, and I believe that Spent is only a small trinket of gaming goodness that can be used to create even more meaningful and commanding experiences for us to learn from as human beings.

Enjoy folks! – and here’s your question: Can you Prove It?