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Why we need a video game about homelessness

Big Issue seller Dave Campion imagines a video game that explores the struggles of homelessness. His characters would face violence in the street, cope with addiction as well as needing to figure out how to simply kill the time.

Dave Campion Pitch: Outside Ryder’s Bakery, Dawlish, South Devon. Illustration: Matthew Brazier

For Big Issue seller Dave Campion, video games are about escape – whether it was playing at his friend Matt’s house while homeless or to overcome problems when he was in accommodation. But what if Dave had the power to bring the two worlds together to create a video game about The Big Issue? We passed him the controller to figure it out.

You see homelessness in a lot of video games, particularly ones with an open world, but because it’s in a fictional world, you often don’t really pay attention to it.

You see it, but you don’t really focus on it. You don’t think about characteristics of those homeless people. What are their personalities?

There is even a game where you can sell something like The Big Issue that does a decent job [in CHANGE: A Homeless Survival Experience players can sell The Daily Issue]. But there are some I’ve seen that don’t get it.

My Big Issue game would be more like a role-playing game where people could take control of different vendors, maybe 20 if I’m being ambitious. I’d want each one of their stories to be quite short, around four hours each.

The storyline of each character would come from interviews with vendors and I’d want you to be able to switch between a first-person and third-person perspective while controlling them.

The aim would be to show there is a difference between being homeless in different situations and different places.

Success wouldn’t necessarily be moving off the streets and into a home and a job for every character. That isn’t success for me

To simulate selling the magazine I would present you with five people who walk by and then you can choose one of them to have a conversation with.

That’s a decision we have to make as vendors all the time. Based on what they say back to you, you can come back to them and that decides whether you make a sale. It’d work like a dialogue tree you see in other games.

Time would be running constantly in the game as you go through the day to day but I wouldn’t make the days too short – when you’re homeless, killing time is part of the problem.

That’s where The Big Issue kept me alive – if I had been sat around doing nothing all day I would have gone absolutely mental. I’d like to tie in real-world events too, for example, what would it be like to be homeless during riots? Including the pandemic would be great as well to show how it changed vendors’ lives.

Success wouldn’t necessarily be moving off the streets and into a home and a job for every character. That isn’t success for me and sometimes it is about making life comfortable for yourself. Overall happiness would be the most important thing I’d measure.

You’d have community points and street respect points to measure success too. The community points would affect the way the public react to you and whether people offer you acts of compassion like a haircut or food.

Whereas the street respect points would affect how other homeless people react to you. I’d also measure comfort, warmth and health as well as charisma or persuasion stats to determine how well you convince people to buy the issue.

I want a game where adults can understand what it is really like on the street, so I can’t shy away from the violence out there. Strength and fighting would have to be two of the characteristics of the game because you have to look after yourself from time to time. I couldn’t ignore begging in the game either. But I would make doing it affect your happiness, even if you are successful.

I’d want people to realise that it is soul destroying to be just sat there. Whereas if you are selling The Big Issue and people are coming up and buying them all the time, you don’t feel like that.

I’d like there to be a street respect cost for having an addiction – it would make the game harder because addiction makes life harder

As for showing addiction, I’d like there to be a shop where you can buy detrimental things. I’d like you to be able to buy alcohol, for example, that would put your happiness up but would make you hungry and affect other statistics.

I’d like there to be a street respect cost for having an addiction – it would make the game harder because addiction makes life harder.

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I’d like to have at least one character for whom the real challenge is moving indoors. It would be like the same game but a bit like The Sims where you have to deal with keeping your house tidy, getting a job, dealing with the challenges of living indoors. It’s something I experienced during the pandemic.

I’d want there to be little mini-games so it’s really entertaining to play. For example, I’d want busking or entertainment ones where you press the right button at the right time to play a song like Guitar Hero, for example. Or mini-games to simulate jobs you can pick up.

I’d love to work on something like this in real life. If any video game developers want to sit down with me and bring it to life, get in touch!

Dave Campion sells The Big Issue outside Ryder’s Bakery, Dawlish, South Devon

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