Local News

Online game challenges views of being homeless

Posted March 8, 2011

— A new game from a Triangle advertising agency is giving people a chance to experience the tough decisions that go along with being unemployed and making do with less.

Durham-based McKinney developed SPENT, which it calls the first online game about homelessness that challenges people to survive poverty and see firsthand what it can be like.

Each player starts without a job, without a home and only $1,000 to use to make decisions about where to spend money for a month.

“Some are moral decisions, some are survival decisions,” says Sarah Fowler, who turned to the Urban Ministries of Durham for help when she lost her job and home a few years ago. “A lot of people do live paycheck to paycheck, and they have to make these important decisions.”

Designer Jenny Nicholson says the game is a result of, not only research, but from her own experiences of poverty.

“Even though I lived it growing up, sometimes it feels really far away,” Nicholson says. “Sometimes, even for me, it's easy to forget what it's like.”

The game is free to play and also gives users the opportunity to donate money to UMD or view other ways they can be involved in the organization.

It is also being used by the UMD, which is trying to raise $50,000 from new donors between now and the end of May, to help people like Fowler get back on their feet.

“Quite honestly, the people in our shelter feel that the game is a bit easy, their situation is much worse than the game,” says UMD’s executive director, Patrice Nelson.

Nicholson says the point of it is to put the player in someone else's shoes and see that it's not easy to live on so little.

“If you haven't experienced it , you just can't know. You just can't know what it's like,” she says.


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  • uln4gs Mar 9, 2011

    There needs to be more options to choose from. I had over $600 left and was informed that I had a cell phone which I would never would have if I was struggling financially and unemployed. That's a problem for me and I know I'm going to get flack about this but if you are truly struggling you should not be spending $40/month on a cell phone! People think they are a necessity but they are NOT! When you are truly poor and hungry a cell phone is the last thing you worry about having.

    A game does not compare to reality. I have lived off of $60/month after my basic bills were paid. No cell phone, no name brands and dinner at happy hour with a plastic bag in my purse so I could stock up on free food for the week. People who have truly been poor without entitlement benefits understand what it's like to go w/o. People in the US think they are poor but their lifestyle is far better than any poor person in an underdeveloped country.

  • 2012notobama Mar 9, 2011

    This game is an eye opener, but not very realistic. I did it twice and still had over $200 left each time. I had a tough time raising my child, but never had to resort to food stamps. I also worked several jobs at one time. My son uses his growing up time as a way of making better choices for himself now.

  • driverkid3 Mar 9, 2011

    I live on less than $700.00 a MONTH! If I had $1,000.00 for ONE month, I'd feel like I was rich! I pay my bills, eat good (without food stamps) and often feed other people. I think a lot of people over extend themselves, and yes, I HAVE been homeless! I cleaned houses and anything else I could do in order to get a place of my own.

  • Duke _Nukem Mar 9, 2011

    I lasted 14 days :(

  • daisy Mar 9, 2011

    I think its a good game and for people who don't struggle it may be enlightening. For people who live in this state of survival on a daily basis, they know there are other options. When I played the game, there were several situations where I would have picked a different option.

  • sammyg Mar 9, 2011

    Wow, this game is an eye opener! I only made it through with $127 left plus my gas shut off and car messed up. If marked8 made it through with $733 left, he must have forgotten about the child.

  • Krzyzewskiectomy Mar 9, 2011

    Made it through he month with $733 left. Too many bad things happening in this game, not very realistic. If a server only makes $250 a week they are doing something wrong. I have known ones who have made $250 in a single night.

  • give me no quarter Mar 8, 2011

    And this girl sits there with the straightest face. An almost who done it face. Unbelievable.

  • flyingcheetah92 Mar 8, 2011

    They just made this game to raise awareness not to show people how to live.

  • give me no quarter Mar 8, 2011

    So me, as a player, put myself in a position of being homeless so I can feel what it's like. How about a game that helps me keep from being homeless. One that let's me work for an honest wage and not cry about it. One that teaches me how to hold on to a dollar and stay away from wine. How about a game like that?