I first heard about Spent via a NPR broadcast months ago. It wasn’t until I was challenged to critique an ARG for class that I recalled the premise of the game and how it sought to shed light on real-world problems. I am not an avid or even casual gamer by most definitions, so my perspective will probably differ from many on the actual interface and technical components.

SPENT, created for the Urban Ministries of Durham, puts the player in to the situation millions of Americans face: You’ve lost your job and have limited options, you have to stretch your budget while making crucial decisions every day, you have work, family, social, and health demands that all require money, but you still have to be able to pay rent and eat, otherwise, you wind up homeless, like the many people the Urban Ministries helps every day.

This game definitely puts the tough choices people with limited income face into perspective. I was surprised how thought provoking this game was for me given the real-world experiences I came to it with. I have had my position eliminated, been on unemployment, had to accept a low-paying service-industry job, moved to a cheaper apartment, etc. Even with those experiences behind me, I found the situations and options presented very interesting and persuasive. I had never imagined having to make all those tough choices, while balancing a family and needing to provide for children.

The game gives users last-ditch options in addition to your paycheck — stealing from your child’s piggy bank, donating plasma (been there, done that), and taking out payday loans. After each situation is presented to you details are given on actual statistics of real-world people facing these issues. For example: Decide where you want to live – rent and cost of commute are inversely related. After you pick, it displays this message: Lack of affordable housing affects many people. For every dollar a working family saves on housing, they spend an additional 77 cents on transportation.

At the end of the game, after experiencing all the difficult economic decisions many make daily, there are options to donate $5 to provide a day’s meals for someone or volunteer with Urban Ministries. The game is highly persuasive with a basic game and limited options. I believe developers met the needs of this non-profit, with simple design, smart data and limited game choices.

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