It focuses on the Guinard family, living in rural Haiti, and tasks the player with trying to keep all five family members alive and to improve their lot over a four year period. The five family members are Jean Guinard, his wife Marie, their sons Patrick and Yves, and their daughter Jacquline. This family faces risk from disease, bad weather, and even potential violence, but with luck and careful planning they can survive and even prosper.
Ayiti: The Cost of Life'' provides examples of:
- Adult Fear: Having to decide which family member to send to school, which one to force to work, or even which one to send for care. And this is supposed to be your own family. It's especially bad if some disaster leaves your family in extreme poverty and in poor health, because then you'll slowly starve to death.
- Barefoot Poverty: The Guinard family starts out this way, though the player can defy this and buy shoes for them. Doing so makes it easier for them to work, reducing the amount of health they lose by working too hard.
- Bilingual Bonus: While the game is mostly in English, there are Haitian Creole phrases in the events to help the setting feel more authentic.
- Big Damn Heroes: One random event that can occur is that a church group, or a cousin
- Crapsack World: Rural Haiti is portrayed by the game as this. Hurricanes occur regularly and can potentially destroy your home, hospitals will throw out sick children to die if their parents can't pay, education isn't always guaranteed, and criminals prowl the streets.
- Deathof A Child: A very real possibility, especially if the children fall ill and you are can not afford to send them to the clinic for treatment.
- Earn Your Happy Ending: If you do well enough, than you can not only keep all of your family members alive and improve their conditions in the present, but also guarantee them a bright future.
- For Want of a Nail:
- Something as simple as the rum distillery not hiring for a season can make the difference between whether or not the family can keep it's finances in the black.
- UNICEF is active in the Guinard's community, but it can't get any projects off the ground without help. Apparently this family is the only one that is willing to even consider helping with that end.
- Foster Kid: If both the parents die, this will be the fate of any surviving children. It will also dash any chance they had of education or improving their lot.
- Heroic Sacrifice: Some endings involve this, with the parents sacrificing their health and forgoing chances to educate themselves so that their children can have brighter futures. Some seasons might also see you send children slotted for education to go to work in order to pay for medical bills for their parents.
- Mundane Made Awesome: Simple items can have a big impact on everyone's life.
- A bicycle may be quite expensie, but it allows you access to construction work - which pays better than rum distilling and is less tolling on health.
- School uniforms let children access public school, which is pretty good education and is cheaper even than lottery school.
- Parental Favoritism: A legitimate game mechanic; since you realistically can't afford to send all of your children to school, one strategy is to only educate one.
- The Un Favourite: The game mechanics make Jacquline more likely to be this. Since she and her mother Marie are the only two characters who can work as market women - a relatively high paying job - she's less likely to be sent to school than her brothers.