Spent: A Game about Surviving Poverty 1 Favorite 


Aug 1 2011


Raleigh-Durham NC, Online

Spent is an online in-browser game designed by ad agency McKinney as part of a partnership with Urban Ministries of Durham, NC, calling attention to the problem of poverty and educate people about homelessness. In the game, players are challenged to live on $1000 over a month, often having to decide between essentials and utilize outside options in order to survive. The choices players make often negatively impact their health, their ability to work, or the survival of their children. The game illustrates the kind of decisions that lead people to seek help from places like Urban Ministries of Durham, who provide food, shelter, and aid to homeless and displaced people.

The game initially offers the player a choice of jobs: restaurant server, warehouse worker, or temp. These choices then encounter their own risks - can the player keep up with the highly-skilled temp positions, or handle the health risks that come with warehouse work? Immediately, the player is offered the expensive choice of health insurance, and decline is met with a note explaining the commonality of this choice among low-wage workers. Players have the option to ask their real-world facebook friends for assistance, or make sacrifices to go it alone. At every decision, players are met with an explanation of the consequences of these choices, and the game becomes more and more hopeless as the decisions pile up. Ultimately, the player is shown the overwhelming difficulty of low-income survival, whether they make it through the month or not.

The game's educational aspect is meant to appeal to those who are not among UMD's typical donors - people who are socially conscious but not typical recipients of email or newsletters. The campaign has gone viral over the last two years and has caught significant media attention. In September 2011, McKinney and UMD called upon members of the US Congress to play the game as a demonstration of the severe disconnect between the Congresspeople and the people they represent. The game has generated a large amount of discussion on the very real impact of severe poverty among low-income workers, and revealing just how easy it is to find oneself in a place of struggle.

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