Image of job choices in "Spent"

Think you could never be homeless?

It’s been a while since I last wrote about a serious game, but I continue to track games that support learning. One I heard about recently – on NPR, I think – is a game called Spent developed by Urban Ministries of Durham (NC). The premise – one that rings all too true for too many people – is that homelessness is something than can happen to anyone. Here’s how the Urban Ministries Web site puts it:

Work hard. Do the right thing. Homelessness is something that will never happen to me. Sometimes, all it takes is one life-changing experience to land you on the streets: a job loss, death of a loved one, divorce, natural disaster, or serious illness.

Next thing you know, a chain of events sends your life spiraling out of control…

How would you cope? Where would you go? What would you do? Figure something out, right?

Problem is, things often aren’t so easy to figure out. I decided to see if I could make it by taking a job as a waiter – work that at least felt familiar to me from college and grad school days.

Image of waiting job details from "Spent"

Of course, to make things work, I had to live 30 miles from my job and forego health insurance. And I had landlord issues. And my gas was cut off. And the final straw was paying for some medicine my mother needed. All in all, I made it 18 days before I was completely tapped out of money and on my way to becoming homeless.

Image from "Spent" - Out of Money

Spent is not a terribly complex game, but it is very effective. A while back I wrote about a similar experience I had with playing 3rd World Farmer. While certainly not the same experience as the real thing, games can go a long ways towards providing context for learning in an amazingly effective way. As Jane McGonigal argues – quite convincingly – they may may be one of the best shots we have at learning to change the world. Whether that proves true or not, Spent is definitely worth checking out and sharing with others.


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