Year Made: 2011
Platforms: Windows, Mac OS, Android, iOS
Content Areas: Math, Social Studies, Health
Suggested Age Level: Middle School, High School
Play Length: 15 minutes
Number of Players: Single Player
Difficulty Rating: Easy
In the midst of a war over raising minimum wage and revelations that the majority of public school students live in poverty, there is no better game to play than Spent. Created by ad agency McKinney and the Urban Ministries of Durham, Spent challenges players to live a month in the life of someone who has lost their job, their home, and their savings but still must care for themselves and their child. With only a thousand dollars for the month, players have to budget and make impossible decisions
Make no mistake, Spent is difficult to play at first. I played through six times to see as many events as I could and try each of the jobs. I only succeeded twice, and even when I succeeded, Spent gave the sobering reminder that despite my pride in saving 200 dollars, my rent was due the next day. Similar to the unexpected hurdles in life, all it takes is one wrong move for the player to run out of money and lose the game. Each playthrough is different with randomized events. I had to decide what to do with a sick pet, choose between earning extra cash or seeing my child in a play, or if I was going to talk to a union representative about better pay. In providing a random set of events to experience over the month, the game not only allows for endless replayability but also for students to have their own experiences with the game while still having a common thread to discuss. Spent has also done a wonderful job in remaining current. One key difference in the game now compared to when I played it several years ago is the inclusion of the Affordable Care Act. Players now have to decide which plan they will opt into or if they will take the penalty for being uninsured. At the end of the game, students can also reach out by donating to the ministry or learning more about the kind of people that find themselves looking for help.
An important issue for educators to watch for in using Spent in class is that it can be an emotional game, especially for students experiencing the effects of these types of decisions. Even students who are not directly facing these problems could find the game overwhelming emotionally. To help students cope with any of these decisions, they should be allowed to take a break when needed or have an opportunity to talk about what they are experiencing as they play.
Compared to an in-person poverty simulation, Spent inspires the same anxiety, frustration, and ultimately empathy for people who experience this struggle every day but all contained within a single game. Educators, and even parents at home, can talk with students about what effects living in poverty can have on people in a way that students could connect with or better understand. In specific subjects, math or economics teachers could use Spent to teach students about the importance of budgeting and tracking expenses. Social studies teachers can use the game to discuss poverty and how it has led to the current legislation and the debate over raising minimum wage. Finally, with decisions about what you can afford to eat or how you can afford to exercise, Spent provides a platform to talk about how poverty can increase health risks.
The most valuable takeaway from Spent though is the sense of empathy for people living below the poverty line. Spent provides an opening for a discussion about some of the most pressing issues facing our students and country today.
Educational Rating: 7/8
(Classroom Tech Friendly, Motivation, Concrete Learning, Additional Skills, Feedback, Difficulty, Accessibility, Extension)
Overall Rating: 7/8
(Immersion, Environment, Storyline, Replayability, Entertainment, Gameplay, Originality, User Control)