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Pros: Full of real-world facts, Layoff inspires productive conversations and creates empathy for workers.
Cons: The "match three" mechanic is not deeply connected to the subject matter.
Bottom Line: An easy, instantly engaging, and fascinating starting point for deep conversations about the economy, business, government, and workers.
Teachers can use Layoff as a starting point for discussions about the economy and the role of business and government in protecting workers. Resulting discussions could take many forms: Students could choose a worker from the game and creatively write about his or her experiences after being laid off. Alternatively, they could research the issue of layoffs and debate it from the side of either a large corporation or a union. Students could also role-play various players in the economy, or consider what their own lives would be like if their community faced massive economic layoffs.
Layoff is a game very reminiscent of Bejeweled -- line up three of a kind to eliminate them from the game board. The only difference here is that, instead of lining up matching colors or shapes, players line up matching workers, and when they're eliminated, they slide to the Unemployment Office at the bottom of the screen. Hover over workers to get information about their lives ("Renee, 41, is a night guard and has been with Ponte Plastics for 10 years. Renee raises a 10-year-old son, Eli, alone after a bitter divorce"). At the same time, the game constantly scrolls factual information regarding layoffs (such as numbers of layoffs or whether banks responded to press requests for what they spend bailout money on). The game tracks how many millions the player's layoffs have saved the fictional corporation. Stuck? Just get a bank bailout!
On its own, Layoff does a good job of creating empathy for workers, making it surprisingly hard to keep playing as every click of the mouse sends more workers plummeting into unemployment. The real learning, though, should come post-game, when students and teachers engage in thoughtful conversations and learning about the game's facts and events. While the Bejeweled-style play will grab kids, and offers some commentary at the unfeeling and systematic way with which layoffs are often conducted, it would be nice to see a mechanic that builds even better conceptual understanding of the topic.