“14 million Americans are unemployed. Now imagine you’re one of them.” These words greet users who accept the challenge and “play” Spent, an interactive month-in-the-life as an unemployed parent with mounting bills and dwindling savings. Launched by the Urban Ministries of Durham, a non-profit organization providing care for Durham’s homeless and indigent population, Spent aims to illuminate the difficulties of poverty by exposing users to the unforeseen difficulties that ensnare even hard-working, well-meaning Americans. (And, of course, to seek donations).
I started the month with $1,000 and took a job as a waiter. Unfortunately, rent is pretty expensive near the restaurant, so I had to pick an apartment about 40 miles away, increasing my commute and gas bills. As I proceeded through the month, I had to deal with local hoodlums, car troubles, student loan repayments, medical bills, and more.
My bank account continued to decrease, to the point where I tragically had to refuse to my son’s request for ice cream. Despite cutting back, I ran out of money 19 days into the month, even though I had already decided to forego hot water. As I made each difficult decision, pop-up messages offered statistics about the people who make these same difficult decisions every day – with much more at stake.
The game offers a view of poverty that is decidedly situationist – even users who “work hard” by finding employment and doing additional work for neighbors still run into the myriad difficulties created by the situation of poverty. Hard work, it turns out, is not always enough to overcome rising costs of health care, gas, food, electricity, and child care.
Take the challenge and see if you can make it through the month! And if you do, don’t celebrate yet – there’s another month ahead, surely with even more bills to pay.