Product Review of Spent
Spent is sort of like a jazzed-up, text-based, choose-your-own adventure, but with a powerful message about social justice. Players are thrown into the tough — often impossible — life of someone living on the poverty line; they choose a job, get a set income, and must make choices based on events that pop up. The goal is to survive a month within budget. Teachable moments come in the form of tough choices that pop up, sending players’ budgets and wellness into tailspins — forcing impossible balancing acts that drive home the precariousness of poverty. Would the player rather go out to a free concert with friends and pay for the babysitter, or stay home and save money? Which is more important: food or medication?
With the help of some resources — like related research/articles and real stories of poverty, Spent could spark some fantastic discussions. While not directly correlated to Common Core, playing Spent could fit in with numerous ELA units dealing with themes of poverty, anything from The Grapes of Wrath to Esperanza Rising, or even the Hunger Games series. Any economics-focused math or social studies units could draw from Spent as a point of illustration and comparison, and help learners understand monthly budgets or government policies that help/hinder poverty. In a social studies class, learners could also research what it would be like to live in poverty in their local communities. Have learners find out local rents and the minimum wage, investigate health costs, food costs, etc., and set a monthly budget. Then, as a class, explore possible events and how they’d impact the budgets they set up.
Spent is one of those experiences that comes alive for learners with the right scaffolding and extension. On their own, learners should get a more relatable picture of what it’s like to be poor in practical, everyday terms. However, educators can help learners understand why some choices presented in the game are so tough, and so common, and explain some of the many structural and institutional reasons why those in living in poverty, unfortunately, tend to stay living in poverty. It’s in this extension and discussion that Spent be an even more extraordinary learning experience.
Overall User Consensus About the App
While it’s not the most exciting experience — learners just click through it — Spent’s content is thought provoking, and sure to raise questions, incite discussion, and could fuel further research.
Curriculum and Instruction
Spent’s punishing, eye opening, choice-driven narrative helps learners empathize with and understand the daily struggles of poverty.
There’s not much beyond in-game pop-up hints and some summative data for further investigation and discussion.