A new computer game from the UCL Institute of Education (IOE) draws attention to an age-old injustice in UK society – the fact that our life chances continue to be shaped by our social background.
Using information on the scale of social inequalities in Britain from the 1958 National Child Development Study, ‘Jacob’ gives players an interactive opportunity to play as different hypothetical individuals as they make their way through life.
The simple 2D puzzle game, which is available for PC, challenges players to assemble ladders out of a number of different pieces. Players need to build upwards while avoiding different obstacles.
Unlike most computer games (but just like real life), players do not start off equally. The game difficulty depends on the early life socioeconomic conditions given randomly to the player at the beginning of the game.
The more challenging the circumstances, the more difficult it is on average to assemble the pieces to get to the top of the ladder and complete the game.
Dr David Bann, of the IOE’s Centre for Longitudinal Studies led the development of the game, with fellow IOE colleague Andrew Burn, of the London Knowledge Lab, and game developers Duck Duck Zeus. The project was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.
“Bringing computer games and science together is enormously exciting – Jacob is an indie attempt at this”, explains Dr Bann. “It allows players to explore very simplified representations of different life paths, where opportunity and difficulty are strongly influenced by the lottery of socioeconomic circumstances we are born into.”
“The importance of individual skill or luck in off-setting socioeconomic difficulty will be revealed when the players’ scores are submitted and amassed.”
Cohort studies follow generations of people throughout their lives. They have repeatedly revealed the importance of early life socioeconomic conditions for future life chances. Those born into less favourable circumstances – families with lower income, wealth, education, or social class – are less likely, on average, to obtain higher education and more likely to experience health or financial problems as adults.
Evidence from the cohort studies is widely used by scientists and policymakers to understand how these inequalities arise and what can be done to reduce them.