"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..."
I want to talk a little bit of games and how/if they are effective when talking about issues of inequality. For the majority of this post I'll be talking about Spent, a flash game put together by the Urban Ministries of Durham (UMD) in conjunction with McKinney, a media/advertisement firm. Throughout the game you are asked a series of questions and faced with the inevitable repercussions of your answers. When you play, think of these questions: do you feel a connection to the situation? does it strike a nerve differently than if you were to attend a seminar on poverty and homelessness?
Spent starts off with a statistic, that "Over 14 million Americans are unemployed."
You are now one of them. You have no job. You have no house. You are a single parent.
You have $1,000 left to help make you through a month. Can you do it?
You continue on and try and find a job: server, laborer, or temp.
Do you have the skills?
Can you make the hours?
Can you live on your wages?
If you can't, do you have any other options?
I like that this game talks alludes to the failure of a true meritocracy here in the U.S. Though it doesn't address racial and other factors that contribute to poverty, I think it still proves to be an effective tool for teaching others. I played it for the first time a couple of months ago and I remember the panic that I had with each decision. What sacrifices do I make? Are they good for my child or am I failing them? I grew up in comfortably middle class family--I never suffered from want or need. There was always food on the table and always job security. The few brushes I've had with money problems have been minor, but even then have terrified me to the point that am determined to have that never happen to me and my future children.
So, I can't imagine being impoverished; I've never had that experience. So this game is effective for me, probably more so than a speaker. After all, this puts me in the position where I have to make a decision with real ramifications, versus experiencing them second hand through another's recount.
Other games to consider playing:
You start off as a lone dissenter in a crowd of others. Working your way against the crowd, you are able to recruit one and then another. Continuing one, you begin to amass you own followers that begin to rival the crowd. But what happens when you take over the majority?
You start off in a calm forest. You begin to climb higher and higher up the trees until you reach above the clouds and float contently in paradise. However, you can't float forever and eventually must come down, and when you do, you fall deep into a dark sludge pit that engulfs you. Your movements now restricted, your chances escape seem especially grim. Should you get out, the process repeats only the highs get harder and the lows threaten to consume you. Put together by Singapore-MIT Gambit Game Lab, the game serves as a metaphor for depression.