Spent

Well, do ya, punk?

There were a lot of neat games to go through this week, but with all the talk about social games and meaningful mechanics going on around here, I'd be remiss if I didn't spend one post pointing everyone toward Spent, a serious game with social-network tie-ins.

Durham advertising agency McKinney designed and donated Spent to the Urban Ministries of Durham, a nonprofit serving the poor and underprivileged in Durham, NC. Spent is intended to educate players on the precarious financial positions not of the homeless and unemployed, but of the millions of folks living on the edge and trying to stay afloat.

Spent puts players in the position of a recently unemployed family breadwinner. The challenge is to get a job, pick a place to live, and survive for 30 days without running out of money. If you skip cut the right corners, get lucky enough to avoid disasters and emergencies, and if you're a fast enough typist to get the temp gig, you should be able to make it. But it's certainly not easy, and often feels unfair. But you can often choose to ask a friend for help—meaning posting about your virtual struggles on Facebook or Twitter.

But that's the point, isn't it? Life doesn't feel unfair when you're struggling to stay solvent, and sometimes you do need to get by with a little help from your friends. But living in the NC Triangle means different financial realities than living in other places. Costs of living vary, and there are certainly cheaper (and more expensive) places to live. Certainly many would find life much harder or easier at that income level if they lived in New York City or Arkansas.

Talking Points: Do you think this is a reasonable portrayal of walking the poverty-line tightrope? Is it effective, or just a cheap shot at your emotions? Do you feel dirty when you choose to ask for help on Facebook? Does it seem like it would be annoying to get these help requests all over your Twitter feeds? Beyond the general struggle of the situation, are there more focused points being made here about certain especially difficult aspects of living at that income level?

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Comments

Over 14 million American workers are unemployed. Now imagine you're one of them.

Not too much of a stretch for me.

I played it through twice to try different options. The game added little wrinkles to the second play-through, so there were some new scenarios I hadn't seen. I managed to make it through the month both times, but certainly felt like a jerk at some points and avoided paying a few bills.

Spoiler:

Got the health insurance but it didn't cover dental. Brilliant!

I enjoyed the education the game provided and it certainly opened my eyes to some of the things I hadn't considered when it came to poverty. While some of the bits were necessarily broad, it had a familiar, penny-pinching feel.

Now back to writing cover letters!

Yeah, sometimes "realistic" games can be a bit too realistic. I'm not sure I'd want to play a game where I filled out reports and wrote form letters for hours.

But, you know, maybe if there were achievements.

Oh wow, a fringe busters game I've actually played! Stumbled across this one the other week and managed to 'win' (with $35 left) after a few attempts. I use win in the loosest sense of the word.

I didn't let the game hook up to my social networking stuff though (seemed skeezy).

This is slightly offtopic, but I really like the idea of having discussion points at the end of the review. In this game in particular, it seems especially appropriate as this is a game designed to get you to think. I just never bothered to mention this in comments since you guys started doing them.

Whoops, no overdraft. Let me try again...

Clemenstation wrote:

Oh wow, a fringe busters game I've actually played! Stumbled across this one the other week and managed to 'win' (with $35 left) after a few attempts. I use win in the loosest sense of the word.

I didn't let the game hook up to my social networking stuff though (seemed skeezy).

I think the social networking aspect of it could be really interesting if applied in more than just a facebook setting. I too am wary about posting random game stuff on my facebook, but it did seem like a semi decent way to spread awareness of the game and the issue.

Perhaps the social network posting aspect might be made more effective (in bringing the issues before friends eyes) if it included quick facts/stats/images about poverty and homelessness in real life (or something along those lines).

Gravey wrote:

Whoops, no overdraft. Let me try again...

Yeah, there's no "But wait a week to cash this check, ok?"

Trying this now, has particular relevance to me as I'm a manager for an organisation that provides Welfare to Work assistance. Will post my thoughts later.

EDIT: Made it through with $287. I think that the game would do a good job raising awareness for middle class and higher, people that have never had to struggle. I was raised poor, worked and paid my way through university and now I help people in these situations get back into suitable and sustainable employment, But I know an awful lot of people that have no concept of what it's like to struggle at all.

Prozac wrote:

Trying this now, has particular relevance to me as I'm a manager for an organisation that provides Welfare to Work assistance. Will post my thoughts later.

EDIT: Made it through with $287. I think that the game would do a good job raising awareness for middle class and higher, people that have never had to struggle. I was raised poor, worked and paid my way through university and now I help people in these situations get back into suitable and sustainable employment, But I know an awful lot of people that have no concept of what it's like to struggle at all.

I think what it does is show you what becomes "optional" at that level of income—things many in the middle class or above would otherwise take for granted.

wordsmythe wrote:

But, you know, maybe if there were achievements.

QFT.

wordsmythe wrote:

I think what it does is show you what becomes "optional" at that level of income—things many in the middle class or above would otherwise take for granted.

Agreed. It also showed me how much I enjoy other things I take for granted that I had to spend money on in the game - like health care. Silly game, I'm Canadian! Why are you charging me for health care?

That being said, I felt the game pitted me in a "worst case scenario" kind of situation. I found myself wondering less about how I was going to make it through the month in terms of the day by day situation I lived in, and more about

"How did I wind up as a single parent living alone with no family to help out, a college degree that's not helping me get anything beyond a temp job, and a massive credit card and student loan debt"?

The game frankly made me wonder more about how these situations occur in the first place than how to get out of them - even if I lost my job today, my situation would be far, far better than that of the person I was playing int he game. That being said, any game that makes you think about these situations at all is a good thing in my books.

As for the social networking stuff - I ignored it. Raising awareness for these issues is good, having them lost in a sea of facebook spam is counterproductive, methinks.

Great pick, btw.

Dysplastic wrote:

a college degree that's not helping me get anything beyond a temp job, and a massive credit card and student loan debt?

There's a lot more of that going on than you may realize.

Great pick, btw.

Thanks!

Prozac wrote:

But I know an awful lot of people that have no concept of what it's like to struggle at all.

Me to, it irks me to think on how long/hard I worked to get to where I am now, only to see sombody freak out to the coffee guy or someone about something so small as flavoring in your coffe or what color of cup you got.

Such things really do not matter that much but to place such importence upon them?

Dysplastic wrote:

That being said, I felt the game pitted me in a "worst case scenario" kind of situation.

Actually, the game is quite generous: it cedes you $1000 at the start, and you probably have the typing and math skills to get a job or help your kids with their homework. The rest of the things that happen are pretty typical in a given month for most people (unexpected $100 health care bills) but we don't notice the expense if we have good employment or good health care.

Barbara Ehrenreich has a book called "Nickle and Dimed" which I've read experts from (in Harper's). She basically tried to survive on her own from a small nest egg of $1000 working without relying on her social network or college degree. One of her findings was that the nest egg was completely uncommon amongst the people she was working with: many lived out of their cars because they couldn't afford the first-and-last-month rent on an apartment.

Good game. The thing it lacks is an awareness of just how quickly this could happen to any of us.

Really great pick. There was just enough realism to the decisions to keep me engaged. While I have a safety net (family, friends, etc), I can relate to some of those tradeoff decisions I have to make just to keep my family even keel and satisfied, rather than sinking toward the redline.

And I suspect, though, that some people are perfectly capable of "gaming" this one. Personally, while I told my kid that she couldn't go to a birthday party because I needed to hang on to that $15, I succeeded in game terms, but my heart actually broke just a little bit.

These Friday games are such a treat. And you're competing with the very fact that it's FRIDAY.

Excellent Fringe Busters game/learning experience!

This game was very affecting and cleverly done. It touched a bit of a nerve right now; I'm only employed part-time, so if it weren't for a patient family and girlfriend, I would be in a similar boat quickly. It doesn't hurt that Raleigh is just an hour or so away.

I'm tempted to send it to my mom and ask her to play, since my parents are hardcore conservatives and have no concept of what things are like for the working poor. I can't claim to be Mother Theresa, but I at least know the statistics.

Dysplastic wrote:

The game frankly made me wonder more about how these situations occur in the first place than how to get out of them - even if I lost my job today, my situation would be far, far better than that of the person I was playing int he game. That being said, any game that makes you think about these situations at all is a good thing in my books.

Dysplastic - I think the point was to shake up folks like us with a safety net and point out that the recession is falling hardest on those without degrees, connections, or skills - the working poor.

Immediately after I was done I donated and tried to share it with friends, so mission accomplished, I suppose.

I played the game for 8 days before it made me crash into a parked car and asked me whether I wanted to pay $550 or to drive off anonymously.

Could happen to anyone: yes.

Reasonable monthly expense: no.

I was sorta hoping to make it half way before the game asked me to become Jean Valjean.

RoutineMachine wrote:

I played the game for 8 days before it made me crash into a parked car and asked me whether I wanted to pay $550 or to drive off anonymously.

Could happen to anyone: yes.

Reasonable monthly expense: no.

I was sorta hoping to make it half way before the game asked me to become Jean Valjean.

It may not be the median monthly expense but I guarantee that there are quite a few unemployed people that run into months exactly like this.

KrazyTacoFO wrote:
RoutineMachine wrote:

I played the game for 8 days before it made me crash into a parked car and asked me whether I wanted to pay $550 or to drive off anonymously.

Could happen to anyone: yes.

Reasonable monthly expense: no.

I was sorta hoping to make it half way before the game asked me to become Jean Valjean.

It may not be the median monthly expense but I guarantee that there are quite a few unemployed people that run into months exactly like this.

Exactly! For some people, following the letter of the law (vehicle inspections, car insurance, not fudging your taxes) is something of a luxury.

That isn't to say that such behavior should be encouraged or ignored, but it does make you think. So, again, mission accomplished.

KrazyTacoFO wrote:
RoutineMachine wrote:

I played the game for 8 days before it made me crash into a parked car and asked me whether I wanted to pay $550 or to drive off anonymously.

Could happen to anyone: yes.

Reasonable monthly expense: no.

I was sorta hoping to make it half way before the game asked me to become Jean Valjean.

It may not be the median monthly expense but I guarantee that there are quite a few unemployed people that run into months exactly like this.

There's something of a joke about "recurring nonrecurring events": It's always something different, but it's almost always something.

wordsmythe wrote:
KrazyTacoFO wrote:
RoutineMachine wrote:

I played the game for 8 days before it made me crash into a parked car and asked me whether I wanted to pay $550 or to drive off anonymously.

Could happen to anyone: yes.

Reasonable monthly expense: no.

I was sorta hoping to make it half way before the game asked me to become Jean Valjean.

It may not be the median monthly expense but I guarantee that there are quite a few unemployed people that run into months exactly like this.

There's something of a joke about "recurring nonrecurring events": It's always something different, but it's almost always something.

College grads ending up in low-paying jobs isn't that uncommon anymore. I have a bachelor's degree and a tech writing professional certificate and found the job market was pretty tough while I was looking of work. It's like musical chairs - there are still jobs that pay well but there's fierce competition for any job opening.

A truly realistic scenario would be a single parent with no college degree, trying to get by on $6/hour and leaving the kids home, hoping the house doesn't burn down while she's pulling a second shift.