Hobson's Choice: A Game Simulation about Homelessness

This page authored by Katherine R. Rowell, Sinclair Community College
Author Profile
This material was originally created for Starting Point: Teaching Economics
and is replicated here as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service.


Hobson's choice is a game about homelessness and how difficult it is to get off the streets and leave the situation of homelessness. The game is text based and gives students opportunities to make choices that an average homeless person would have to make. There are several outcomes and possibilities that are possible. It allows students to see their current situation, gives them realistic choices to try to solve the situation, and then tracks all their decisions in the game.

Learning Goals

After completing this simulation the learner should be able to:
  • Define what is meant by the term Hobson's Choice.
  • Explain some of the challenges faced by people facing homelessness.
  • Compare and contrast individual and structural causes of homelessness.

Context for Use

This simulation works well in a class situation where there has been some type of introduction to poverty and/or homelessness. It is a great teaching tool for helping student move beyond "Blaming the Victim". It does require internet access and works well if done in groups where students make decisions together and discuss the outcomes in a classroom/lab setting. It is a more powerful teaching tool when students work together in teams to select. It can also be assigned as a take home assignment if the student has access to a computer and the internet. Finally, a faculty member could also use it in a large class and make the game available on a computer screen. Students can still participate in the game as a group and discussions on homelessness can be aided by the activity. There are no special skills required to complete this activty. It is recommended that students play the game at least three times to experience the various ways that choices impact the chances of leaving homelessness. Instructor should have a recording sheet where students can record their final outcomes and an opportunity for written reflection prior to clas discussion. As long as there is a computer with internet access, this activity can be adapted for any type of college classroom including distance learning courses. This is a great activity for an introductory level course.

Description and Teaching Materials

In working with this in a classroom setting the link to the game and a link to major resources on homelessness are helpful to students. The instructor may want to develop a reflection activity where students can write their reflections on the experience and discuss to what level the game is realistic. The game could also be used to have a discussion on how simulations in sociology are difficult because depicting real world situations with numerous possibilities and variables is difficult to siumulate.
See link to simulation in resources below.

Teaching Notes and Tips

This assignment can be used in various ways and is easily adapted to all class sizes. It can also be assigned as an out of class activity. The best use of this activity is class based with partners or groups doing the simulation together. There needs to be an opportunity to discuss and reflect on the materials at the end of the simulation. Students often find the game frustrating and will often skip to the suicide option. You may want to develop rules that prevent them from taking this option until after so many attempts to exit homelessness.


This activity specifically addresses students understanding of blaming the victim and the difference between individual causes versus structural causes of homelessness. One form of assessment would be a pre-assessment where the instructor asks the students to list some of the causes for homelessness. At the conclusion of the simulation and reflection, a post-assessment asking the same question could be compared. Another form of assessment is to place a follow up essay question on a midterm or final asking students to explain how this game can be used to understand the sociological imagination or various issues concerning homelessness.

References and Resources

Link the game (Relatively new site)
Hobson's Choice Simulation

Resource on Homelessness:
National Homeless Data and Resources

This is the website and organization that developed the simulation:
Developers of the Simulation