McKinney announced recently that the SPENT game they produced back in 2011 for the Urban Ministries of Durham (UMD) can now be played on smartphone and tablet devices. The game has been played more than 4 million times by over 2 million people in 218 countries in the last 3 years, with the UMD having raised $70,000 as a result, which has helped significantly in its goal to provide food, shelter and support to the homeless citizens of Durham, North Carolina. The game was originally developed using Flash, but once McKinney realised how many people were trying to play the game on their mobile devices, they decided to create an HTML version of the game that would be compatible with most smartphone and tablets.
The game has been played more than 4 million times by over 2 million people in 218 countries in the last 3 years, with the UMD having raised $70,000 as a result
The game itself takes the form of an old-school, text-based adventure game, with the player given the role of a single parent and $1000 dollars to last them a month on a low-wage job. A series of text prompts appear asking the player to make decisions regarding how to spend their money and as the game progresses, you begin to realise just how difficult it is living on the breadline in modern America. If the player can survive the month without losing all of their money (which took me 3 play throughs) they will be asked to donate to the UMD and help those living through SPENT in real life. The new HTML version has included a new 'text-to-give' component, which will make it easier for phone and tablet users to donate to the nonprofit organisation through PayPal.
A Screenshot from SPENT
It's an incredibly effective idea, that's been executed surprisingly well considering the game was designed by ad agency and not a professional gaming company. As well as donating, players can take part in McKinney's 'Names for Change' program and buy the naming rights to one of 169 different items that UMD uses in their shelter every day. They can also share a UMD poster via their online social media networks, download it, or order a high-quality glossy print that can be given as a gift. Being Durham-based themselves, McKinney obviously has a real personal stake in the UMD and it shows in their commitment to the cause.
The game was originally developed using Flash, but once McKinney realised how many people were trying to play the game on their mobile devices, they created an HTML version
Patrice Nelson, the UMD's executive director, said that the game has been especially popular with teachers and college professors, who have been “Using the game to show students the problems faced by those living in poverty.” He says that the UMD receives calls several times a month from teachers telling them the strong emotions that the game has evoked in their students. He says that “The game designers at McKinney used real scenarios faced by (UMD's) clients and treated them with compassion and humanity, and that comes through when people play. He said that when SPENT was first launched, his hope “Was that it would help affluent people in the local metro area understand a little better the choices their very poor neighbours face every day,” but says the game has exceeded his wildest expectations by “Touching millions of people worldwide” and raising enough donation income “To end homelessness for 14 people.” He believes the mobile version of the game “Will help SPENT find even more viewers and continue its work of raising funding and awareness to help those in need."
Benjamin Hiorns is a freelance writer and musician from the UK who has seen himself the ease with which honest working people can lose everything.