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The Essential Great Recession Simulator

Cart Life, the game of near-poverty, is easier to play than ever. That doesn't mean it's easy.

Posted on March 19, 2013, at 4:21 p.m. ET

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Games do the exceptional and the extraordinary, but they barely touch the everyday (and when they do, they have catastrophic server issues). There is no "kitchen sink gaming realism." Richard Hofmeier's Cart Life might be the first step in that direction. The black and white adventure game tasks you with simply surviving as a street vendor in a dreary eastern seaboard city. It turns the experience of near-poverty into a game, and it is a very frustrating and difficult game indeed. Think of it as Nickle and Dimed: The Game

Cart Life is up for the grand prize at next week's Independent Games Festival in San Francisco, and this gladdens my heart. When I first played this game last September at IndieCade, after meeting the very funny and very kind University of Chicago grad Hofmeier, I called it "the kind of game that everyone should play and that no one will." We can blather all we want about how this medium has the room to represent every aspect of the human experience, but until games like this get the notice they deserve, our claims will feel half-hollow.

Cart Life was released on Steam yesterday. It costs $3.49. Essential.