Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Playing SPENT – Empathizing with Poverty

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Reading Time: 2 minutes

I just played this game SPENT twice and I am in so much pain. You take on the role of someone who lives in poverty and has a child and needs to navigate through all of life’s expenses and the difficult choices one needs to make (e.g. work for extra money or miss your child’s play, say no to your child for something they want, if you’re broke and you hit another parked car, do you pay the damages or drive away, what level of health insurance do you get? are you willing to stay quiet when people insult you at work to avoid causing a fight? will you go to work when you feel sick?). They are all difficult choices, and when you make some particularly difficult ones, the game shows you stats of how people go about making those choices (e.g. that most ppl living in poverty miss out on their kids’ extracurricular activities as they try to make ends meet… things like that).

I love it. And hate it, because obviously I have no idea what it’s like to live poor – I don’t know if anyone is meant to do well in this one, but also I’m clueless (who knew that if you don’t pay your gas bill the penalty costs almost as much as the bill itself?)

At first , I had thought I found this game through Games for Social Change on UNDP but it seems I found it through MERLOT . I am thinking my students could create something similar… not necessarily as graphically appealing, but maybe something simple like DepressionQuest and it can be done on a simple platform like just Google Forms with branching questions/answers. Maybe students can have a choice to either play SPENT or DepressionQuest then for a small pair assignment, create a small game to promote empathy in some way… I’d be very interested in something like that… maybe something they have themselves gone through (e.g. a struggle through high school), or something another person they love has gone through (e.g. illness). I don’t know… thinking about it…

4 Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing this game, it is heartbreaking to play but really useful to show just how capitalism is failing whole sectors of society. In the UK we have to start holding our politicians to account for these failings and invest in proper state support for the vulnerable through health, education and welfare systems. As i played I realised just how in such a situation I would depend upon friends and family – something not everyone can do.

    • Yes! I also thought it was interesting how the asking friends and family thru the game asked u to use social media. What a way to also advocate for the message behind the game! It was hard for me to ask friends to be honest but probably essential

  2. This is a really good idea Maha. As a long-time critic of mistakes the medical system has made with me the realization has come up that it’s the almost obsessive need to depersonalize me to uncomplicate my care that grinds on me. The loss of self or the right to express as self could be into a game for young people who could imagine themselves as pushed back to childhood while retaining their young-adult sensibilities, experiences rights and skills. My daughters are in their mid-30’s now and I often forget that they have had ACTUAL adult experiences and it drives them crazy when I “explain” things in “Dad Talk.” Maybe it has to with the sense of going beyond the need for “guidance” into the new world of authenticity of self?

    Used to love branching questions. My favorite redirection was to add, “you would think this from the nature of the question but can you think of alternatives?”

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