There are millions of Americans out of work and living in poverty today. Can you survive for a month when you only have $1,000 to your name, can only find a low-paying job, and have kids or pets to care for? That is the question asked by the Urban Ministries of Durham, a faith-based organization that provides food, shelter, and clothing to those in need in Durham, North Carolina. In collaboration with the interactive agency McKinney, Urban Ministries came up with this brilliant and thought-provoking online game: SPENT. (Hat tip to Stephanie for tweeting about this game).
What is PlaySpent?
Here are the premises of SPENT from McKinney’s press release:
- Your savings are gone. You’ve lost your house. Accept the challenge to see if you can make it through the month on your last $1,000, learning quickly how changes in employment, housing, medical costs and other expenses can create an unexpected shortfall.
- Play through a series of difficult challenges that require tough choices about work, where you live and what you can provide your family, seeing all too soon how decisions lead to unimagined consequences. Learn important facts about the condition of homelessness and the many services UMD provides.
- Whether you quit or get to the end with no dollars or one, click “Donate to UMD” or “Get involved” and view the many ways players can contribute time and/or money via PayPal. Or play again hoping for a different outcome.
My Experience with PlaySpent
This site takes you through a month of trying to survive on little or no income – with real life obstacles that pop up along the way (Do you go to grandfather’s funeral? Should you send your child to camp? Should you pay your cell phone bill or your car note?). I played this game several times, and I pretty much failed every time. My faults came from always paying the dentist and taking the computer science class that can get me a higher-paying job. Two things that I have regarded as wise investments in my future- health care and education – have become luxuries that I cannot afford in SPENT.
In fact, the first time I tried to apply for the Administrative Temp position, I failed the typing test! Through out different iterations of the game, I had to choose between getting a root canal or suffering more tooth pain. I had to decide if I take $10 that a family friend had given my imaginary child. I had to decide if I want to attend my grandfather’s funeral or skip it. I had to decide if I want to pay my gas bill or my electric bill. This game is nothing if not sobering.
There are a lot of assumptions about poverty and homelessness. I think SPENT does an excellent job of making the experience easier to understand for a broader segment of the population. For too many people, poverty is not a game.