We Sacrificed Imaginary Kitties to Help People Avoid Real-Life Financial Disaster
May 22, 2018 11:56 AM   Subscribe

We Sacrificed Imaginary Kitties to Help People Avoid Real-Life Financial Disaster
Cat Insanity is a responsive browser game that slowly, inevitably forces you into the brutal massacre of imaginary cats*, all to capture the emotional experience of drowning in high-interest debt.

Our job was to educate teenagers about the impact of high-interest loans. But we know that 16-year-olds won't learn much from abstract numbers on a graph. So instead of making a rational lesson, we decided to make an emotional experience that would make young people actually WANT to learn about interest rates and try out loan calculators.

The stress, the anxiety, the feeling that you’ll never get on top, the irresistible urge to just say screw it and give up; in less than five minutes, kids who play Cat Insanity understand the dangers of debt in a way that months with a loan calculator could never accomplish.

(*No real-life cats were harmed in the making of Cat Insanity. Just over 300,000 virtual ones.)
Role: game lead, creative director
posted by missjenny (7 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

So I guess I don’t get it? I managed to keep all my cats alive and fed until the last room, when suddenly there were so many cats I couldn’t click fast enough, despite having plenty of food. How does that map to an 18 percent interest rate?
posted by rockindata at 7:48 PM on May 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

I don't think I get it either.

The cats are a metaphor for loans, right? Where did the loan capital go? What did I do to get saddled with feeding these multiplying cats?

So what is the food here? My income?

If my cats are loans, why do my cats multiply instead of decrease? That's because I took out loans whose repayments are greater than my income, I suppose? Why did I get into that situation?
posted by richb at 5:11 AM on May 25, 2018

I didn't see how it related to debt, except for seeming like an impossible situation. I guess I don't understand how it will lead to teenagers wanting to know more about interest rates. I think it would have to somehow involve a loan calculator and interest rates for me to make that connection. But here, there's no choice involved in the situation at all, which is why it doesn't seem like real debt to me.
posted by FencingGal at 12:20 PM on May 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

I like the cats. They are cute. I like selecting my own Cat of Choice.

And I get that you're trying to create a certain feeling in the user, a sense of overwhelm and inability to keep up. I can see that being successful.

The game needs some tweaking, though. For one thing "Go" doesn't actually mean go. It means "start maniacally clicking and at some point long after you see the word 'Go' the game will start acknowledging those clicks". I'd like to see a countdown that actually lets the user know when to begin.

Also, in the intro stage, it's not immediately apparent that you want the user to first close each instruction box before being able to proceed. You're sending a competing message with the blinking cats (which I read and I think others are going to read as needing attention and clicking-upon). I'm not sure why you are requiring users to explicitly close each instruction box. If you're intent on doing so, I think you should not have the cats blink, and maybe have each instruction box blink in order instead.
posted by nirblegee at 1:07 AM on May 28, 2018

This reminds me of those Poverty Simulator games which, being games, make it trivially easy to find the "correct path" and achieve success, prompting people to come away thinking being poor actually isn't so bad. So in the end they convey the exact opposite of their intended message.

I just started playing, but judging from the other responses it sounds like this game might skew in the opposite direction, taking away too much agency from the player to make the "correct path" impossible to achieve. So you may see the terrible consequences of debt, but they don't seem like YOUR consequences. Debt in real life comes on slowly. You see things you want and friendly people tell you that you can have those things now and not worry about whether you can afford it until later. When later rolls around you're used to getting whatever you want when you want it and suddenly you're getting collections calls because you can't afford the payments you were told not to worry about. That's the real danger of predatory lending, the disconnect between what you get and what you're paying for it. The fact what you're paying is way more than the price of the thing is just icing on the cake.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 11:37 AM on May 30, 2018

Thank you all for this helpful feedback.

It was an interesting experience making a game meant to give an emotional experience vs a rational one. And it's true that there are some points where it falls down. But we were trying to capture that sense of everything seeming fine at the beginning, then suddenly you are underwater with no chance of catching up, which we know from research is the case with many high-interest loans.

@nirblegee, I passed your feedback on to my team and plan to address those as I think you are 100% right.

@Mr.Encyclopedia, I laughed a little at your comment because we made Spent too :)
posted by missjenny at 6:48 PM on May 30, 2018

So even if you have enough food you can't feed all the cats in the final room fast enough.
posted by cjorgensen at 9:28 AM on June 1, 2018

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