18 November 2012

Simulating real lives

Last week following a recommendation from PC Gamer I investigated the demo version of Real Lives, a human lifetime simulator designed as an educational tool. The demo version gives you three chances to play through a life, and the emphasis is on unsentimental realism. I particularly enjoyed the randomness of the simulation, not knowing in advance where it would be focusing, and even what country or sex would be focused on. Many of the aspects of the simulation have the ring of accuracy about them, based as they appear to be on statistics compiled by international agencies.

Of the three lives I played all three were males born in developing countries. To keep things interesting I attempted to migrate to more well-off nations in all three cases, and as you'll see this had a varying success rate. Here are the three obituaries for my sim lives, each of which took about half an hour to play through:

Yawo Bakara

Yawo Bakara of Barcelona died yesterday of diabetes aged 83. Mr Bakara was born in the isolated rural town of Lola, Guinea, in 1927 to Nkruma and Jumoke Bakara. After military service in the Guinean Army (1945-48) Mr Bakara worked and saved the money to enter Spain illegally in 1953, at which point he chose to live in Barcelona. An assembly worker by trade, later in life Mr Bakara invested wisely and opened a car repair business. He was a lover of art and books, and frequently volunteered in the community. He was never a religious person.

His wife Salima died 18 years ago of an asthma attack.  He is survived by his son Rashid and his daughters, Rashida and Kamilah.

Campat Konchadi

Born in 1922 in the city of Tenali in Andhra Pradesh in India to Dhaval (a manufacturing labourer) and Abhirka (a domestic servant), Campat was the fourth of four children. Schooled for a mere one year, Campat was a lover of art and showed promise as a talented artist. Stung by the death of his brother Dayanand aged 23 from a drug addiction, at the age of 21 Campat smuggled himself into New Zealand illegally on a military transport ship, and immediately found a job in Auckland as an artist. At age 30 he married Mohit Chethan, a secondary school teacher. They had four daughters: Tina, Paula, Angela and Kelly. Their eldest daughter Tina risked her parents' anger by having a romantic relationship with another girl, but Campat and Mohit decided not to throw her out of the house. Aged 50, Campat decided on a change, opening up his own courier delivery service. Three of his four daughters became teachers, while the fourth became a scientist. Unable to continue the courier work, Campat stopped driving aged 66. After a few years of odd jobs, he retired aged 73.

Campat died aged 88 of an infection.  He is survived by his wife, four daughters and five grandchildren.

Jiao Chao 

Born in 1987 in a village in Liaoning Province, not far from Fuxin, Chao was the third of four children of a Buddhist family, Wen Huan (a farmer) and Mei Kai (a seamstress).

Chao was kicked out of school for his political activities when he was 17, and began work as a farm worker.  Following four years of military service he returned to farm work. An indefatigable social and political activist, he was killed age 23 attempting to illegally enter Singapore.


The Real Lives software does not appear to have any direct links to historical events, so wars and particular natural disasters do not play a role in the random lives that are being generated. Despite that limiting factor, and its slightly old-fashioned appearance, Real Lives is an interesting idea and as simulations go it could be successful in the education market it is designed for. Certainly I could see it being a good way to broaden the horizons of students in developed countries who have little understanding of the challenges faced by those growing up in poorer countries. And certainly the sad fate of young Jiao Chao acts as a reminder of the sad fate of many boat people who perish as illegal migrants.

Personally, while I found playing Real Lives to be an interesting experience, I won't be stumping up to purchase the full version. Chiefly this is because at US$29 it feels significantly overpriced for what is meant to be an educational tool. And in addition, in two of the three lives I played I experienced significant bugs. While these didn't prevent me from enjoying the simulation, they did limit the game's realism and overall appeal. In my first outing as Yawo Bakara, at some point around the time his parents died Yawo mysteriously gained 30 million euros in cash with no explanation. Maybe Spanish lotteries are very generous! And in the case of the Konchadi family in Auckland, the interlude with daughter Tina's lesbian relationship turned out to be a bug rather than a pleasingly realistic feature of the simulation. All of Campat's daughters' partners turned out to have the exact same female name and the game referred to them as 'husbands' once they had married Campat's daughters. I thought it stretched the bounds of probability that not one but four identically-named suitors were out there courting the Konchadi daughters.     
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