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PlaySpent The Online Game’s Challenge: Can You Survive A Month in Poverty?

via UMD

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.

  • eemusings - Those were SUCH tough choices.

    I've played twice as the admin temp and come out in the black but lord, some of the curveballs they threw!

    I'm off to try my luck as the server/warehouse worker. ReplyCancel

    • WellHeeled - I tried my hand as the server and the temp (finally passed the writing test after 2 tries), and it was tough. Selecting for health insurance immediately cut $70 from every paycheck, and I had one instance where someone siphoned gas from my car so I had to take the bus to work (and thereby missed a few hours of work). Even though it was imaginary, I remember thinking, who would SIPHON gas? Does anyone do that anymore?! ReplyCancel

  • Tweets that mention PlaySpent: Online Game Shows Experience of Poverty | Well Heeled Blog -- Topsy.com - […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Well Heeled Blog, Regurgitating Games. Regurgitating Games said: PlaySpent: Online Game Shows Experience of Poverty | Well Heeled Blog http://bit.ly/hl3Sw3 […]ReplyCancel

  • brokeprofessionals - Wow….that does not sound like a "game" at all. It really puts things in focus, when you feel like your life is tough. Most of us have it pretty good in comparison to what things could be like. Thanks for pointing out something I have never heard of before, although I don't think I will be checking it out any further. ReplyCancel

  • @amarantac - i really enjoyed this game!! In that it really made me think… I failed the typing test too. ReplyCancel

  • Girl Makes Cents - I failed the typing test everytime I tried it! I made it once through the month after playing 4 times. Some very hard choices there! Makes you think for sure. I always went into the month thinking I would be able to make it but things come up. ReplyCancel

  • Money Reasons - I've never heard of such a challenging game. Good stuff!

    I'll consider tyring this when I have more free time! ReplyCancel

  • Hedy - The putting the pet to sleep had tears welling up in my eyes. ReplyCancel

    • WellHeeled - Or "let the pet suffer"?! How sad is it that that is even cheaper than putting the pet to sleep. ReplyCancel

  • Daisy - I lasted 22 days, one time.
    It wasn't so bad, but I kept thinking – If I was in poverty, why would I have a pet? They're expensive. I love pets, I have one, but I'm not living in poverty. I'm bias, though. & I know somebody who is living under the poverty line that has to deal with this sort of thing who has a pet, so it's not out of the ordinary.

    • WellHeeled - I think what happens is that the family has a pet / lots of things when times are good, but then their financial situation deteriorate faster than they expect. ReplyCancel

    • Wendy - You might have had the pet before you lost your job. Many people facing poverty today are people who never thought they would go for more than a year without being employed. ReplyCancel

  • Boom - I played twice and made it both times, but I'm not happy about it because it's too real for me. I "succeeded" because I make the same sacrifices in real life every day. I have been a server and I'm now an administrative assistant actually choosing between my mom's medical bills and what I'm going to eat for the week. I live an hour and a half away from my job, I don't have medical insurance and I have tooth pain. Yet, unlike my Spent counterpart, I do have a bs college degree which I'm struggling to pay for. This "game" just depressed the hell out of me. ReplyCancel

  • ShoeGal - I got so hooked on this! This is such a unique idea and kind of hit home than a lot of other material about poverty. It was just a game but they were not easy decisions, especially the ones you had to make about your pet and kids.

    Thanks for sharing. ReplyCancel

  • Margo - It's very clever, because they included gas and rent in the same decision – lots of people forget to factor in the increased fuel costs when choosing to live farther away.

    I find myself wanting to pay for the sports team, even though it costs more than the other things for my "kid" because I've denied two or three things already, so I feel guilty and pay for the more expensive option I can't really afford. Great insights to the psychology, and McKinney's work never ceases to amaze me. ReplyCancel

  • Tea - This sounds like playing Oregon Trail. I used to fail that every time too. It's back on Facebook too (in case we want to play more games that encourage us to fail at life). ReplyCancel

  • Slinky - Interesting, but it's got some issues. Twice when I played, I had to pick between gas and electric even though I had money to pay both. Then I had to pay a $200 deposit on top of what I owed for the one I didn't pick. It also didn't give you some common options for dealing with low income like picking up a roommate or working an extra job. Or selling your car with the payment and buying a beater.

    It was also interesting to see people's reactions to the game. For those that haven't been there, the choices are apparently tough. For those of us who have, it's not. The kid is not getting the extras. The weddings and such will have to be skipped. The bills get paid. Any opportunities for extra cash are grabbed. Any way to accomplish the same thing, but cheaper/free is taken. It's just what you do. ReplyCancel

  • 5 Lessons from PlaySpent | Well Heeled Blog - […] weeks ago I blogged about PlaySpent, an online game that gives a taste of life as the working poor. Today, I went back to the site and played again, and I felt compelled to write a little more about […]ReplyCancel

  • Double7 Images » Blog Archive » A Virtual Reality Check: Are YOU Safe? - […] of the YEC put me on to this site. Talk about putting the visitor in the shoes of other people. Well Heeled Blog describes the site as: There are millions of Americans out of work and living in poverty today. Can […]ReplyCancel

  • McKinney - As of today, SPENT has had over 1 million plays. Help us spread the word all the way to Washington. Please help us by signing this petition encouraging Congress to play SPENT and learn about the realities of living on the edge of homelessness.

  • Laurie Peterson - I used to use this with my middle school familyb& consumer sciences classes. We have iPads now & the game will not run on them due tomAdobe Flash. IPads do not support flash. Any suggestions. ReplyCancel

  • Rachel Grushie - As I am a single mother with children and my experience about playspent is real hard. I work as a housekeeping and I get less paycheck from work. I try to save some money and spend the rest to pay bills, health foods and clothes, and other things, but my money does not meet those prices and the money usually run out quickly. I have a car, but I sometimes ride on bus sometimes. I could not buy all what I and my kids needs or wants. I want two jobs, but my schedule is conflicted: work, school and my kids. I don’t want to become homeless or poverty woman. I like to work hard. I will need someone who can look after my kids permanent while I do my things to see how I can manage to improve my financially and my future plans. I need good counselor to guidance meReplyCancel

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