With an office in Durham, North Carolina, the prestigious McKinney advertising agency developed and launched an interactive game called SPENT for its pro bono client Urban Ministries of Durham.
Inspired by such games as SimCity and FarmVille, SPENT combines a familiar virtual environment with the reality of those living in poverty. The game guides players through real dilemmas individuals and families make throughout the course of a month. Given $1,000 to live on, the goal is to end up with money left over at the end, however, the challenge is to have enough money at all. Players quickly learn how even minor changes in employment, transportation or health can have disastrous consequences.
After playing SPENT, Perpetue Bariyanga shared:
As professionals, we tend to want to judge people that we meet. However, we never know what another person is going through.
SPENT highlighted that some people may be doing their best and that might not be enough to help them live comfortably or at the same level that we might expect. No parent wants to see their kids go hungry because they may be bullied or laughed at due to getting free lunch meals. Every parent wants to do what is best for their children, but sometimes budget constraints limit activities—such as fieldtrips or birthday parties—that might not be a necessity at that moment.
For many, every day is a struggle. SPENT helped me better understand what some people might be going through. It reinforced my belief that being compassionate and understanding towards others can go a long way.
Rachel White shared:
On SPENT, I tried to make it through the entire month. However, on day 29, my bank account balance was $3 and the bank charged me $5 for letting my balance go below $50. Throughout the whole game, I tried to use as little money as possible unless it seemed absolutely necessary. I felt bad that I wasn’t paying my bills and loans, but I just didn’t have enough money to pay everything.
The experience was a rather eye-opening activity. I did not expect it to be as difficult as it was.
Poverty is a reality for millions, but unless you’ve experienced it firsthand, it can be difficult to understand. Simulations like SPENT help to bridge the gap in our understanding.