Poverty Games Pt. 4: Spent

Spent is a fantastic interactive simulation for teaching about poverty in the US.  The premise of the game is that you are a recently unemployed and homeless single parent, down to your last $1000.  You have to find an apartment and a job and handle all kinds of life events–from illness to car trouble to choosing between working overtime or seeing your kid’s school play–and make it through the month without running out of money.


Your first decisions are your job and your apartment.  For the former, you choose between a restaurant server, a warehouse worker, or an office temp, although you have to pass an actual typing test to take the temp job.  You find out your weekly take home pay, minus taxes, and then choose whether to opt in to a health insurance plan (which costs about 1/4 of your monthly income).  Then you choose where to live, with the cost based on proximity to work and transportation costs.  For the rest of the month, all kinds of problems arise–some with costs, and many with statistics attached to tell you why some people choose to play the lottery, go to work sick, or start smoking.  Several events allow you to ‘ask a friend for help’ and then open up a facebook status page for you to do just that.

Even if you play extremely frugally, the best result is to make it to the end of the month with some cash–but with rent due the following day. A ‘big spender’–someone who pays their mom’s doctor’s bills, buys presents for their child, attends family weddings and funerals, or pays all their own bills on time–is very likely to run out of money before the end of the month.

I wouldn’t say that the game is ‘fun’–depressing is a better term–but it does force players to be actively engaged in living on a minimal income, and can be quite useful in helping students understand the challenges of poverty and why ‘working harder’ is not really a solution.

The game can work both as an individual homework assignment or a collective exercise in class with students voting on what they want to do, as for each event there are only two or three possible options. At the end of the game there is an option to donate money to the game sponsors, Urban Ministry of Durham, in their fight against poverty and hunger.

Fun: 1/4–while well designed, the game is more depressing than fun.

Ease of use: 4/4 highly interactive and very easy to use, no instructions required.

Polisci Class Applicability: 3/4, although better for American politics than IR or comparative.