Local News

Online game challenges views of being homeless

Posted March 8, 2011 6:31 p.m. EST
Updated March 8, 2011 6:32 p.m. EST

— 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.