That’s the challenge of Spent, an interactive online game developed by the social-service organization Urban Ministries of Durham and the North Carolina ad agency McKinney, which donated its services, to educate people about poverty and homelessness.
Players navigate the game by making decisions that could severely affect their health, their financial stability, their children’s well-being, and their work life. The goal is to show the kinds of choices a needy person must make every month. At the end of the game, people are asked to donate, volunteer, or play the game again.
At the start of the game, players try to find a job as a restaurant server, a warehouse worker, or a temporary worker. Among the first challenges:
* Do you opt in for health insurance when the premium is $275?
* Do you live near the city, where rent is high, or farther away, where you’ll consume more gas?
* You missed your car payment and collections come calling. Do you pay $250 or hang up?
* You have sharp pains in your chest? Do you get it checked out for $20 or ignore it?
Amid all these questions and choices, you’re informed about the plight of people at risk for homelessness with statistics and other facts.
“More than 14 million Americans are unemployed,” the game says.
And when you pick a burger on the dollar menu to eat instead of a salad for $6, the game says: “It may be bad for you, but it sure is cheap, perhaps that’s why low-income workers like you are more likely to be overweight.”
You can also enlist the help of friends by connecting to your Facebook account to borrow money from them or ask them to store things that can’t fit in your new, small apartment.
The real-life situations were based on details raised in focus groups that the advertising agency conducted among the case workers and homeless people from Urban Ministries of Durham, says Patrice Nelson, the charity’s executive director.
The 28-year-old Urban Ministries has been supporting about 6,000 homeless and low-income people in the Durham, N.C., area.
Although 250 people are housed in shelters in the city, many aren’t homeless but are at risk of becoming homeless—and many of those come for help with their utility bills.
“They’re unemployed,” Ms. Nelson says. They’re still living in their homes but are seeing very hard times. They come to us for food, clothing, and other support services, trying to make ends meet.”
Ms. Nelson says she hopes this online game will appeal to young donors who don’t get the charity’s traditional appeal for contributions, such as mailings or e-mailed newsletters.
“We need to be able to appeal to people who will be the leaders of tomorrow, the younger generation of people who are socially conscious and have the funds and energy to donate and to support our causes now,” she says.
Since it made its debut on Tuesday, about 100,000 people have visited the online game and started some 145,000 games. As of Friday, Urban Ministries had received about 70 new donations averaging $27. It has also added 100 new friends to its Facebook page.
“We are used to people giving larger donations,” Ms. Nelson says. “But we know that in social media, you might reach a whole new audience with a different kind of outreach.”