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Can you make it through the month?
February 15, 2011 9:26 AM   Subscribe

SPENT is a flash game (or an immersive online experience depending on who you ask) that challenges players to survive poverty and see first-hand that homelessness is just a shortfall away. Created in partnership with Urban Ministries of Durham and containing scenarios commonly faced (pdf) by the working poor, it may not tell people anything they don't already know, but is a creative use of gaming and social media to raise awareness and bring in donors.
posted by ND¢ (47 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
I ran out of money on day 24.
posted by ND¢ at 9:26 AM on February 15, 2011


I played this a few days ago and it was haunting and harrowing. I definitely recommend at least one playthrough. But don't try to play multiple times to get a "perfect" ending. That wouldn't really be the point.
posted by kmz at 9:29 AM on February 15, 2011


This thing makes a good point, but it's very frustrating because they don't give you all the information you need to make good decisions. For example, I found out I have a kid on day 8?
posted by jeffamaphone at 9:33 AM on February 15, 2011 [5 favorites]


I successfully sued my landlord to get him to fix a broken window, but my only options for fixing the leaky sink are call a plumber or do it myself? What happened to my landlord and consistency?
posted by jeffamaphone at 9:38 AM on February 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Okay, I can't play this anymore. My balance on Day 22 is $451 and I'm told I can't pay both my electric bill ($125) and my gas bill ($100). I'm pretty sure 451 > 225.
posted by jeffamaphone at 9:39 AM on February 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


This was heartbreaking, and haunting as well. I felt pangs of sympathetic stress watching how expenses I put off because I couldn't pay them turned into greater expenses I definitely couldn't pay.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 9:44 AM on February 15, 2011


It also - by the way - gave me a newfound appreciation for what I do have.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 9:45 AM on February 15, 2011


I'm too spent dealing with my own financial issues to ponder pretend poverty.

Back to Minecraft!
posted by Celsius1414 at 9:45 AM on February 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


838 bucks at the end of the month.....but I wasn't a very good guy. My family survived, though.
posted by Senator at 9:49 AM on February 15, 2011


Well I'm playing it and I'm in it to win it right from the start:

It doesn't inform you from the outset of your current assets. Yes - as jeffamaphone said, there's no indication that you have a child, except for the "Smash your kid's piggy bank" option which indicates you have at least one child, but that option but raises the question of more, unknown variables whose influence upon my financial standing I'd like to know.

Do I have the experience to be a restaurant server? Do I have a car? Do I have multiple children but only one with a piggy bank holding currency -- do I have a wife? Oh well. I'm sure everything will be fine. You can buy a lot of ramen with $1000. Hopefully I'll have that option.

OOh the temp position requires a typing test. I guess I passed and now I get $306 dollars a week if I work 40 hours. A promising start. Now how to get rid of my kid(s?)....

Health Insurance? Hell nah! I'm 23 and healthy as a horse.

Ok well now I'm offered the choice of relocating. It seems that I'm in a rather desolate spot on the planet -- there's no public transport option, which seems to imply that my "workplace" is a shack with keyboards and coffee, however the price of housing does go up the closer I live -- hmmmm.

Man being broke sucks. My life is determined by factors whose nature I cannot determine, and whose detriment may arise at any arbitrary moment. I see the happy office workers driving by in their cars, smugly confident in knowledge which I cannot seem to obtain; what model is your car asks my fellow temp Jim and I just shuffle my feet and look at the ground.
posted by past at 9:54 AM on February 15, 2011


That game doesn't sound fun at all.
posted by slappy_pinchbottom at 9:55 AM on February 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think I will stop playing this game and go play the real life version for a while.
posted by Felex at 9:56 AM on February 15, 2011 [3 favorites]


OH GOD! The one thing I ask is accurate ramen prices. Ten to seventeen cents, not a damn dollar!
posted by past at 9:57 AM on February 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I had the foresight to realize my car would get repossessed (but I'm going to hang onto it for as long as possible) so I chose to pay more and live in the city so I could walk to work. But I still lost my job when my car got repossessed.
posted by jeffamaphone at 9:58 AM on February 15, 2011


"This thing makes a good point, but it's very frustrating because they don't give you all the information you need to make good decisions."

That's what it's like being poor, too. Unexpected stuff falls on you all the time, and you end up making really short sighted decisions out of shame, fear, and inability to foresee all the consequences.

One of the most miserable moments in my own life was when my car overheated on my way to work, just after the new year. It was a blown head gasket, and to fix would have cost about a month and a half's pay assuming (outrageously) that I had no other expenses, like, oh, rent. So there I was, not getting paid for today, on the verge of tears, angry at having spent so much on Christmas gifts for the woman who is now Mrs. O when not one day earlier I was still overcoming the shame of not being able to give her what wanted to and felt I ought to be able to. In retrospect I'm grateful that I had enough cash on hand to buy anyone Christmas presents at all, and even more grateful that I never thought about opening a line of credit. Nevertheless, the bottom line is the same: no matter what I did, I always ended up hating myself for it one way or the other.

And that's where this game can't be fully accurate. It doesn't communicate is the shame, the guilt, the fear, the anger, and the sadness. This game won't give you the falling feeling in the pit of your stomach as your debit card is declined. It can't recreate the difficulty bringing yourself to look the hospital financial assistance counselor in the eye. It won't make you beat yourself up for not wanting to visit your nearby family for the holidays because you can't afford to miss work.

To be honest, I never even had it all that bad. I didn't have a kid. I had family that could help me if I really need it, I had an education that would eventually land me a decent job, and I was young and reasonably well-kept and so I had chances. Even so, I put off my dreams because I found a job that would let me have money in my pocket after paying the bills. (At least I could afford to have dreams.) I'm starting to get over the shame, and keeping my eyes open to how I can make the world a better place for others now that I'm not trying to keep my own from falling apart.
posted by mister-o at 9:58 AM on February 15, 2011 [33 favorites]


OH GOD! The one thing I ask is accurate ramen prices. Ten to seventeen cents, not a damn dollar!

Depends on the ramen. That's about right for basic, noodles-and-flavoring ramen purchased in bulk or on sale at a grocery store, but the fancy Cup Noodles-type ramen with dehydrated vegetables and whatnot are pretty close to a dollar each, especially if the only place you can buy them is a convenience store or gas station.
posted by jedicus at 10:04 AM on February 15, 2011


I had $500, and $225 in bills to pay. I was told I could only afford one and then forced to pay $200 to have my gas turned back on.

It doesn't help make the game's point much when you're forced to make stupid decisions, as if that's a given in the life of someone at the poverty line.
posted by timdicator at 10:04 AM on February 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


In my experience, this actually does tell a lot of people things they didn't already know. I can't even tell you how often I hear that poor people are just lazy in my mostly middle-class community.
posted by KGMoney at 10:05 AM on February 15, 2011


Is Durham laid out really weird or something? Do waiters actually have to live 33 miles away from their job in order to pay less than $700 a month in rent?
posted by 23skidoo at 10:09 AM on February 15, 2011


"In my experience, this actually does tell a lot of people things they didn't already know. I can't even tell you how often I hear that poor people are just lazy in my mostly middle-class community."

That's ignorance, a kind in which the blinders are chosen by their wearers.
posted by past at 10:14 AM on February 15, 2011


I feel like if we really tried we could turn this into another discussion about whether hipsters on food stamps cook their organic free-range chicken in Le Crueset.
posted by nanojath at 10:14 AM on February 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Is Durham laid out really weird or something? Do waiters actually have to live 33 miles away from their job in order to pay less than $700 a month in rent?

Durham's got some sprawl, but this game is as exaggerated as a Michael Bay chase scene. ... hi-yo
posted by timdicator at 10:14 AM on February 15, 2011


I was wondering why the game kept trying to open popups, until I disabled my popup blocker and found out that every time you try to 'ask a friend for help', it wants you to post the game on your Facebook. Hrm.
posted by Gordafarin at 10:16 AM on February 15, 2011


There are a lot of things wrong with it. I agree with the point that it's not easy to be poor. But I lived right in the city and my car broke down and I had to miss several hours because of the bus. My kid needed 50 dollars to get tutoring to pass a class and the next day needed 75 dollars for a gifted class.

The problem is that being poor is pretty sustainable for most people most of the time. You can scrape by and hold on and things are ok until all at once they aren't. But this day 1, chest pains, day two root canal, day three sick kid, day four broken car, isn't an acurate reflection of poverty either.
posted by I Foody at 10:17 AM on February 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


OOh the temp position requires a typing test. I guess I passed and now I get $306 dollars a week if I work 40 hours.

Wait wait wait wait.

You can pass the typing test? I didn't -- and in real life I AM a temp, and can type at 100 wpm. I thought that it just failed me because it fails everyone.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:18 AM on February 15, 2011


EmpressCallipygos: "OOh the temp position requires a typing test. I guess I passed and now I get $306 dollars a week if I work 40 hours.

Wait wait wait wait.

You can pass the typing test? I didn't -- and in real life I AM a temp, and can type at 100 wpm. I thought that it just failed me because it fails everyone.
"

I think it might count mistakes (even backspaced ones) against you, regardless of your speed. The first time I went through it like I normally would, making mistakes and correcting them instantly - failed. The second time I paid a little more attention and was careful to get everything right the first time, and I passed.

I finished the month with $500 but no job. Oops.
posted by Gordafarin at 10:28 AM on February 15, 2011


I got through the month with $214 to spare. I starved my kid and made them wear thrift store shoes, though.
posted by Solomon at 10:33 AM on February 15, 2011


I think the game could be made a lot more effective--and accurate--if it failed you out for not having enough money to make rent at the end of the month. All the people complaining about how they had enough cash to pay both utilities right now are forgetting that in just two weeks they're going to be out another $700-800 or whatever. So yeah, you've got $525 in your pocket right now, and the utility bills only come to $300 total, but you're only going to get another $612 or so this month and you need money for rent.
posted by valkyryn at 11:05 AM on February 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


Don't need to play this. This was last year for me, thank you very much.
posted by Samizdata at 11:42 AM on February 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


I was expecting the following to pop up:

The kidnapper is 500 feet from an airplane, he has the hostage, what do you do?

1) Let him go
2) Shoot the hostage

posted by hellojed at 12:15 PM on February 15, 2011


"Choose one of these terrible options instead of the option(s) that makes sense and would be available in the real world! Now you know what being poor is like!"
posted by Menthol at 12:20 PM on February 15, 2011


Was anyone able to get the temp job? I keep doing it flawlessly but it keeps telling me "I failed" and I'm not sure if it's designed to get your hopes up or not.

also, bills come due, but it doesn't give me the option to pay them when I get them or when they're due, sometimes I have to wait until after I get paid to pay some.

Also, it says I can only pay 1 bill, when I can clearly pay both of them.

Lastly, joining the lottery pool should have a 1/1million chance of paying off, but I'm guessing it doesn't. But it should be in the code, just for kicks.
posted by hellojed at 12:32 PM on February 15, 2011


The one that bothers me is laundry. Anyone who uses a laundromat paying $30/month for the privilege? I have a laundry room in my apartment complex (which is affordable housing in a low-income neighborhood) and I'd be surprised if we crack $12/month in laundry fees.

I grew up poor though, and you learn some tricks. Like getting a rack to hang your wet clothes on instead of drying them: it's cheaper over time, and the clothes last longer.

To me the real issue, and one which I think the game gets at, albeit obliquely, is that it's easy to find ways to reduce your consumption in the little things: you can control your food budget by making big cheap meals and eating them as leftovers all week, for instance. But the big-ticket budget items are so far beyond your control that it often doesn't feel worth it to work on the small-ticket ones. Why should I save $5/week by buying dried beans and soaking them -- indeed, why should I eat beans at all, given the plethora of other cheap protein out there -- when I have over $1000 in car payments and rent that I'm struggling to make?
posted by gauche at 1:19 PM on February 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


I got a temp job on my first try.
posted by jeffamaphone at 2:30 PM on February 15, 2011


I ended the month with $544 (which is, for the past several years, about what I make in a month, anyway). Took no sick days, no insurance, ignored health problems. Just like real life!
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 3:18 PM on February 15, 2011


I ran out of money on Day 23... darn.
posted by biochemist at 3:21 PM on February 15, 2011


I fully agree with the sentiment, but it would make a stronger case if its situations were a little more realistic, a little harder to argue with. I mean if you're trying to convince a skeptical person that poverty is hard to escape from, you need to make a really careful argument, because the first thing you add that isn't realistic, and they will cry foul and stop listening to you. It should be easy to make the game more realistic and still damn near unwinnable. I mean, that's the way it is in reality, after all. I could design a game like that, I think, based on my and my friends' experiences. Maybe I should try.

But yeah, I lived on ramen, generic frozen mixed veggies, tuna and macaroni, the cheapest available hot dogs, and the cheapest available bread for a while. And occasionally juice for vitamin C. I spent $3 a day and survived for quite a while. No noticeable medical complications. Of course, I had to learn about some of those foods from a poor friend. If you don't have a guide, it's probably harder.
posted by Xezlec at 3:29 PM on February 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think it might count mistakes (even backspaced ones) against you, regardless of your speed. The first time I went through it like I normally would, making mistakes and correcting them instantly - failed. The second time I paid a little more attention and was careful to get everything right the first time, and I passed.

I keep getting tripped up on the lack of a serial comma in their sentence.

Yes, I use serial commas.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 3:32 PM on February 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Lost my job for talking to a union rep...

fucking pisses me off how much universal health care would actually make this country free. It's like corporate slavery. How many people take shit jobs just because it pays SOME of their medical coverage? I'm convinced it's the reason 80% of the people I encounter every day are miserable - just knowing they are one medical malady away from the poorhouse is turning people into zombies. We need a damn Egypt-like revolution just to get healthcare because there is no fucking way we are going to get it otherwise. Anyone feel like taking to the streets?
posted by any major dude at 3:56 PM on February 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Okay, the only-one-bill thing is annoying, but the groceries! There was crap (hot dogs, chips) and good things (peanuts, peanut butter, "toast," carrots, tomatoes)... and I chose the good things and was told I would starve. Uh, hello. I had a $1,600/mo. job and I can promise you I did not starve. Nor did I buy hot dogs. Flour, corn meal, beans, leafy greens, basic dairy, meat on its sell-by date. I suspect that the people who made this app have never actually shopped for groceries.
posted by sonic meat machine at 5:17 PM on February 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


I failed the typing test. I'm not sure why, since I have no problem with temp type jobs in real life. Also the groceries were really weird- I know how to make things stretch, because I come from a body friendly hippy-dippy background. Was I supposed to buy several packets of Ramen or did $1 imply I had a brick of several? Was that a $3 bag of apples, or one apple for $3?

Matters get more complicated by the fact that I appear to have kids (hey? what? You could at least give me a notice my birth control failed!) and an unmentioned spouse who stays home full time (or free daycare they failed to mention). But wait- why am I having these shopping problems with a car?

Okay, that many accidents?! What am I, driving with a sack on my head? x3 car crashes, the "can't pay both bills!!!" when it was possible to pay.

Look, I've been really poor many, many times. It was bad, it wasn't that bad. I think this actually works against relief for poor people by exaggeration.
posted by Phalene at 6:42 PM on February 15, 2011


I wonder if this game is only effective at helping you relive poverty, rather helping people understand it. It's annoying to see so many people complain about that one bugged question. I didn't get a stupid question like that in my playthrough - instead, I got a sinking feeling in my chest remembering the last time I was short on rent and my car broke down.

It seems to me that in a just society, working should entitle you to a certain degree of security. Is this an uncommon belief? Why does our society not work this way?
posted by heathkit at 11:57 PM on February 15, 2011


Who decides what is useful work?
posted by quillbreaker at 12:16 AM on February 16, 2011


Dear Ask-Metafilter,

I overheard two co-workers talking negatively about me in the hallway. I am a temp, and they are full-time employees. I'm scared that if I confront them, I'll look like a troublemaker, or they'll do something in retaliation to lose me my job. But if I don't confront them, I'm scared the lies they are spreading will get me fired instead. What should I do???
posted by lollusc at 1:40 AM on February 16, 2011


Dear Ask-Metafilter, I overheard two co-workers talking negatively about me in the hallway. I am a temp, and they are full-time employees...

Fortunately, it wasn't this bad, but this kind of thing actually happened to me. (It's obviously safe to shed the anonymity now.)

That question fortunately was more about my wounded pride and their cattiness rather than any job-loss fear; but that's only because professionally, I'm pretty much Uber-Temp (100 wpm, experience with 7 different industries, certified expert with MS Office and I even know Quark -- I can work it, h8ers). But it still got to me. And for someone whose skill set is less secure, this could mess with you that much more.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:46 AM on February 16, 2011


There is no option in this game for mugging drunks walking home in the dark. I managed to get through the first month fine. I simply applied my own previous decisions and experiences to the scenarios.
posted by Bubbles Devere at 6:30 PM on February 16, 2011


I got the temp job on the first try, though I did backspace a few times. Maybe its random.

I found the game insightful. Though a (kid) immigrant who, ostensibly, has lived through near-poverty, I did find the game insightful and interesting. Thank you!
posted by olya at 7:23 PM on February 17, 2011


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