Critique Blog — Post 1

Game | SPENT

Game Metadata

Game Name: SPENT

Designer/Developer: McKinney, Urban Ministries of Durham (UMD)

Platform: Online game, browser-based

High-level Instructional Goal: To raise awareness about poverty and homelessness. To educate players on how decisions made in employment, housing, medical costs, and other expenses can impact the income and home budget.

Link to the game:

Learning Objectives

SPENT aims to educate players that the decisions made in employment, housing, medical costs, and other expenses can impact the income and a home budget. It allows players who are not yet familiar with the issue of poverty and homelessness to get the first-hand experience of living from check to check.

Throughout the game, players are presented with real-world scenarios that require tough decisions about work, where you live, and what you can provide for your family. For example, do you cover the minimum on your credit cards or pay the current balance? Hope your sick kid gets better on their own or risk your job by leaving early to take them to the doctor? Players then can see how their decision leads to a corresponding consequence. By trying to make a decision for these real-life challenges, players can better understand the everyday struggles of people struck with poverty and homelessness.

A real-world scenario
Result after choosing “stay home from work”

Game Elements

Gameplay Loop:

Players are given $1,000 to live on for one month. The goal is to end the month with some money left over. Throughout the game’s one-month period, each day is presented with a new scenario where the player needs to make a decision that may impact their income and budget. The game ends when players either run out of money before the end of the month or make it through with money left over.


challenges, choices, results, link to social media, balance, timeline


choose a decision, share on social media, donate money

Player experience:

Often there is no “good” solution to the issue at hand, for example, “what do you want to do when your new apartment is too small for your stuff?” Under these circumstances, players can ask their Facebook/Twitter friends for help by posting messages like, “I can’t afford my house, so I’m downsizing to a smaller place. Can I store some stuff at your house?” This connection to social media also serves as organic advertising for SPENT and makes the experience seem more personal. (Mckinney, 2011)

Share on Social Media site

Whether players make it to the end of the month with change in their pockets or whether they run out of money before the month is up, all players are invited to “help someone living SPENT” by donating to UMD or sharing results on social media sites.

Learning Mechanisms

Anchored Learning

SPENT engages the player in solving real-world challenges. Instead of asking the player to make decisions for somebody in those kinds of situations would make, players are asked to make the decision as they would. By allowing the player to ask a friend for help by sharing on their social media platforms, the game emphasizes the connections between the game and the real world. In this case, the player can experience what it looks like and what it means by asking people in the real world for help.


After the player makes each selection, they receive immediate feedback about the decision’s consequence. For example, after a player decides on a place to live, the balance changes immediately. Additionally, players can learn important facts about the condition of people with financial difficulties and homelessness, such as “almost 15 percent of American households had a hard time getting enough to eat at some point.”

Activate Preconceptions

Most scenarios/challenges are built upon what the player already knows, such as finding a place to live and grocery shopping for the next few weeks. Given the limited budget($1000 a month), many people may choose to live farther away from their job to save some money. However, the result says that people spend an additional 77 cents on transportation for every dollar a working family saves on housing. Asking the player to make their decision with prior knowledge then providing the new information (the fact) makes the game engaging.

Overall Critique

I think SPENT succeeds in creating an immersive and engaging learning experience about surviving poverty and everyday challenges encountered by people with financial difficulties.

On the one hand, after playing the game, I better understand how easily those real-life challenges can happen to a person, and how easy it can be to end up homeless. On the other hand, this game helps raise awareness of homelessness and how UMD helps. I particularly like how social sharing — asking a friend in real-life for help, is naturally and smoothly integrated into the game when players have to make “hard” decisions.



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