Gaming With A Cause: Spent

Today’s Game of the Week relates to recent topics that I’ve discussed on Gastrogamer. If readers will remember my admiration of Jane McGonigal, then you’ll see why I think this game would fit fondly into her game design forte. McGonigal is all about the development of humanity through gaming, and Spent gives a player to experience a part of the human society that I think sometimes we can overlook. Spent was developed by the Urban Ministries of Durham and a company called McKinney. Urban Ministries of Durham help in serving homeless shelters and providing for food for impoverished families in Durham, NC. The goal of Spent is to give players a chance to see if they can deal with the same hardships that many people go through daily.

Can you live for a month on 1000 dollars?

The game is pretty simplistic as far as mechanics go. The game only requires a mouse click to choose options, but what makes this game unique is that each choice you make is important to your survival and completion of the game. You log on and immediately you are thrown into an interface that challenges you with a premise:

“Urban Ministries of Durham serves over 6,000 people a year. But you’d never need help would you?”


The immediate human response that we get when challenged is to prove to others, as well as ourselves, that we can do the scenario that’s been posed to us. Spent forces the player to be in the position of an alternate scenario as if it was their own life. Each decision you make is met with trivia that expresses the hardships of low-income families. This game touched me emotionally, because it gives life a different perspective and makes you value every humbling reward of your life. You value your families successes, your financial security, your insurance, etc. You learn to appreciate your own life as you play through this game. This is why I recommend at least viewing it.

People often need aid from others, thus the Facebook attachments to the game, provide an even more realistic view to this simplistic game. Everyone, on occasion, requires the need to lean on other people for assistance. This game teaches us that we can’t always rely on ourselves to make it through our struggles, but sometimes we need to look to our friends and family for aid. It really opens up our eyes to the value of friendship and love and how hardships can bring individuals together.

I think the best portion of this game was the music though, because it gives a foreboding suspense to every decision you make throughout the game. This game is enlightening and gives an eye-opening experience that I feel like movies and television can’t even begin to grasp. Movies and television only allow us to visually experience a scenario, but given a game that puts us in the position of poverty, Spent gives us an even deeper understanding of the seriousness of our financial crisis and poverty.

I recommend this game, because games like this give us a deeper view of the world going on around us. It may seem like a depressing, dark, and foreboding game, but overall, the emotional impact of the gameplay is worth taking the challenge for. You can learn more about the Urban Ministries of Durham here:

Hopefully more games like this will come to fruition in the future, so that we can clearly see challenges that happen every day in our human society. We may sit at home and feel so secure, but in an instant, anyone can become unemployed, homeless, or living paycheck to paycheck. I feel so passionate about this movement, especially since the designers come from an area close to where I grew up. I would love to see more games discuss real human difficulties.

Please don’t give me more zombie apocalypses, or space warfare. These games are unrealistic and give me, and many players, fantasy realms to escape our dire realities from. If we spent more time as designers focusing on human hardships, relationships, and struggles ; then perhaps we can find cures, aid, and suggestions for some of our societies biggest problems. How many hit-points does my orc’s armor have in World of Warcraft? – I pray is not someone’s end-all-be-all lifetime concern for this world. If so, I really hope they consider the many struggles others are going about life with before they see their lack of proficient raiding armor as “a struggle.”

Now does that mean that all games should be ultra-realistic and I want to see all fantasy games destroyed? No, not at all, but I think a lot of games can take a page out of Spent’s playbook by giving players problems to solve and decisions to make. Bioware, Blizzard, and many MMO companies have been good at trying to implement these aspects into their games, but the truth is, they’re only aiding in solving fantasy problems.Where is the game where our fantasy hero is a person, not some fantasy Spartan, or some inhuman fantasy character who can tinker his, or her, way out of everything?

I want to feel like my choices in a game make a difference, teach me something that I wouldn’t have learned without playing it, give me a deeper understanding of the world around me. These are the types of games I look forward to going forward in the history of our world, and I believe that Spent is only a small trinket of gaming goodness that can be used to create even more meaningful and commanding experiences for us to learn from as human beings.

Enjoy folks! – and here’s your question: Can you Prove It?