mary’s blog

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The Poverty Line Challenge: Why Hunger Games Is Not Just A Hunger Game

More details about the challenge on their FB post (link).

Can you survive on less than PhP52 a day?

That’s the question posed by The Development Society of The Ateneo in their Poverty Line Challenge last March 2.

Their goal is simple enough: raise awareness about the plight of poor Filipinos.

Unfortunately, the event was seen as “insensitive”, “misguided”, and “unethical”. It’s not that their goal was wrong, it’s just… they’re approaching poverty the wrong way.

You see, the problem with poverty is not how to budget PhP52 a day.

The problem is what happens after your money runs out?

Because for our poorer countrymen, there are no safety nets outside your PhP52.

You can’t beg your parents to pick you up from work. You can’t charge school supplies on your credit card. You can’t skip lunch at school, go home, and grab food from the fridge.

There’s no windfall to tide you over. No allowance to look forward to.

If you can’t pay the fare, you walk. If you can’t afford school requirements, you fail. If you can’t eat, you get sick. If you often get sick, you die.

Want to survive?

Do something drastic.

Steal. Peddle drugs. Be a sex-slave. Ditch your morals. Ask questions like “Why should we starve ourselves to buy lola’s medicine if she’s going to die anyway?

Living below the poverty line means asking these questions, day after day, with no hope of escape from the vicious cycle.

I wish the organizers exerted more effort in making participants realize this. Because those questions, posed to bright-eyed, enterprising students like them, could lead to interesting discussions. Like:

  • How does the FNRI determine what’s enough to keep a man “economically productive” for a day? Can we craft a PhP37 meal plan? Using ingredients available to people below the poverty line?***
  • Where can you get affordable medical attention?
  • How can we inform people of their options so they stop relying on kagawads and kapitans when they need money?
  • How can we extend help to desperate people so they won’t turn to crime?

There is nothing insensitive in using games to raise poverty awareness. But if you’re going to make a game about poverty, make sure that you depict the issues that come with real poverty.

Otherwise, you’ll keep obsessing over the wrong questions. Like what flavor of Lucky Me! pancit canton should I buy today?

And answering that doesn’t help anyone at all.

*** The food budget a Filipino needs to get enough nutrition to be “economically and socially productive” for a day is PhP37. This figure is determined by the FNRI as explained here. PhP52 is the daily budget for everything including clothing, transportation, education, medical bills, etc.

(Edit: added section on empathy games)

If you want to see how a simple game can evoke empathy for the poor, just take a look at Papers, Please ($9.99) and Spent (a free, browser-based game).

Both games will mess with your head and turn you into a horrible person who accepts bribes and starves your mother-in-law to feed your son.

Play it and see what happens when you run out of your “PhP52”.

papers please bribe

One of the numerous moral dilemmas you will encounter in Papers, Please (screenshot from


This tall tale is filed under Opinion.

There are 2 reactions to this story, leave yours below?

  1. It’s 4 in the morning, and I just finished reading an article on VAW centered magazine parody issues (, and now this. Today is really a day for contemplation.

    Anyway, I think the game could have been really an eye opener since as you said, they don’t have the safety nets. This reminds me of El Fili and how the revolution had to fail because only emotions were stirred up, and not the foundation behind it. ANYWAY, good morning! And wow, this post is somewhat different – in a nice way!

    • Mary on March 8, 2014

      Wow. I didn’t notice that my contrasting jokey and serious posts can give readers whiplash. :O

      Hmm… I only use sarcasm when the subject is hopeless and there’s no choice but to laugh at it. Like the 9 Things Filipinos Should Do and Thanks For The Tip, Tito!

      For the Poverty Line Challenge, I used a straightforward approach since DevSoc seems a bit defensive about the complaints on FB and Twitter. Probably because most of the complaints are snarky and mean-spirited.

      Hopefully, this one will be “neutral” enough to get them reading past the complaints and seeing the suggestions.

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