SPENT: The first online game about homelessness - McKinney

SPENT: The first online game about homelessness

February 9, 2011

McKinney’s SPENT is an immersive online experience that challenges gamers and non-gamers alike to survive poverty and see first-hand that homelessness is just a shortfall away

Even in the current economy, assumptions about poverty and homelessness abound such as “I’ll never be in that situation” or “If I were struggling, I’d figure out something.” Today, ad agency McKinney and Urban Ministries of Durham challenge those beliefs with the launch of SPENT, an online game that uses social media to educate people about poverty, homelessness and UMD.

“In 2010, we took advantage of new media vehicles to engage people with UMD in a new, very powerful way,” said McKinney Chief Creative Officer Jonathan Cude, citing Facebook, Twitter and most recent unprecedented use of FourSquare. “Gaming is such a huge influence and with so many people spending literally millions of hours tending virtual farms, we thought why not bring gamers face-to-face with a very real issue like homelessness that affects us all. And people who play SPENT then share the experience on their own pages, help UMD tell its story and reach new audiences like never before.”

“SPENT offers us a unique opportunity to expand people’s understanding of UMD’s client population and the wide variety of services we offer,” said UMD Executive Director Patrice Nelson. “As players struggle to stay afloat, we hope they appreciate more clearly the realities facing the many individuals and families UMD serves. This latest initiative will help UMD engage an entirely new pool of volunteers and donors, and we are grateful for McKinney’s expertise and leadership courage in the Durham community and beyond.”

How to play SPENT:

• Navigate to http://playspent.org.

• Your savings are gone. You’ve lost your house. Accept the challenge to see if you can make it through the month on your last $1,000, learning quickly how changes in employment, housing, medical costs and other expenses can create an unexpected shortfall.

• Play through a series of difficult challenges that require tough choices about work, where you live and what you can provide your family, seeing all too soon how decisions lead to unimagined consequences. Learn important facts about the condition of homelessness and the many services UMD provides.

• Whether you quit or get to the end with no dollars or one, click “Donate to UMD” or “Get involved” and view the many ways players can contribute time and/or money via PayPal. Or play again hoping for a different outcome.

“In any of these scenarios, a player will have a new appreciation for how easy it can be to end up homeless,” said Cude. “A player can survive the month with money left but is emotionally ‘spent’ because of decisions made that compromised family and integrity; or a player can try to make it to the end of the game but run out of money days before the month is over. In all instances, players are encouraged to share the game on their personal social media pages where they can help raise awareness of homelessness and how UMD helps.”

“We believe SPENT will show people how crucial community support is to UMD’s mission and that you really can use a game to talk about homelessness,” added Cude. “We hope that experiencing these challenges first-hand in a gaming environment will lead to a new understanding for how difficult and painful it is to be ‘spent.’ Thankfully, for all of us in Durham, UMD is here to help.”