The game “surviving independence” aims to improve teen players’ autonomy and self-responsibility.

Teens in overly protective environments can fail to imagine that soon their decisions will be truly theirs.  This realization is best learned through experience. In the real world, only you can make decisions, and no one can make you choose wisely. This game provides a simulation of that experience, with consequences that are realistic enough yet free of judgement enough to have impact but not feel preachy.

Two Examples

The game does not tell teens to “take control of their life.”  Instead, teens practice making tough decisions on their own.

For example, the game offers teens opportunities to either “go with the flow,” following advice from peers, or “be a hard-ass,” enforcing their rules on their peers. Either way, the game shows the consequence: the player is held accountable for following friends’ advice

A second example is expressed in finances. The player can borrow money accidentally, just by overdrafting their checking account, so players experience the trap of consumer debt.  Only players who can discipline themselves to stop buying can survive.

Design: A Balance between Freedom and Purpose

The mechanics of the game are not a branching narrative. The game does not reduce complex situations to 2 predetermined “right” and “wrong” choices. Instead, the game tracks multiple consequences from each choice, Over twenty variables are at play: e.g. each peer character has a level of friendliness toward player, as well as desire to drink and smoke, employment status, and level of reliability.  Bosses and landlords have further, specific variables such as cumulative work performance, number of past failures, current mood. Players are allowed to take any job they like, including roles that conflict. Bosses respond to player choices dynamically using rules, not preset sequences of events.  These variables combine to allow a variety of paths to success. There are many acceptable roommates throughout the game, who can be befriended through a variety of strategies, including talking at work, dancing at parties, sharing interests, matching levels of hygiene, loaning money, and sharing activities like jogging and biking.

This game does deliver messages, but only through player-expected methods.  “Win/lose”  is a judgement of player performance that players expect and demand of most video games.  The winning player passes this test: did you end up with a job, enough savings, and a roommate the landlord will accept?  Players can win by getting quitting lots of jobs, or by being loyal to the first employer who accepted you.  The evaluation is factual: are you earning enough money to keep your lifestyle and savings?  However, the messages are high-level.  The player is evaluated only on their outcomes, not their individual choices.