Spent is a sort of text adventure game but rather than exploring a dungeon or alien planet the player has to navigate through late stage capitalism as a low income worker. The focus of the game is on the difficulties faced by low income and impoverished workers in the US and how often being poor has it’s own unique costs. The cost of being poor in the US is not new and it’s exemplified in Spent through certain decisions and mechanics like taking a payday loan at high interest, banking fees on low balances in a checking account, or even ignoring health problems and forgoing preventative care until it’s a potentially fatal and expensive issue later. The game reinforces these ideas by giving the player statistics upon selection of choices, letting them know that there’s no right decisions and millions make similar decisions daily. Ultimately that’s the point of Spent, there are no right or wrong answers or solutions offered in our society of capitalistic hegemony, as far as the people with power and capital are concerned these issues need not be addressed.
Spent starts by choosing a low paying job and an apartment which determine income and housing budget monthly and then the player must just make it to the end of the month without going under 0$. Most days a choice must be made and they’re random events that occur and require a cost, the player has relatively little autonomy as they aren’t influencing the world they’re “seeing the game-world through the character’s eyes and collaborating with them to produce a desired result” ‘(Nissenbaum, Flanagan 184). Often like in real life the desired result is satisfying the short term because anticipating the long term ramifications requires current needs to be satisfied but it produces the result the developer wants because it does demonstrate the difficulties encountered in real life. What I think Spent does effectively is demonstrate the struggle of low income Americans by making people have to try to navigate it, because a lot of Americans only operate off lived experience in the political realm, meaning many don’t believe in these experiences because it hasn’t affected them. While someone like Representative Katie Porter can be effective at visually and verbally presenting the costs of poverty, most Americans don’t believe the struggle without lived experience and Spent is a close simulation to the real experience.
Nissenbaum, Helen and Flanagan, Mary “A Game Design Methodology to Incorporate Social Activist Themes.” CHI ’07: Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, Association for Computing Machinery, San Jose, CA, April 2007, 184.