A copywriter for an advertising agency in North Carolina became fed up with the fallacy that poor people must make poor choices to become poor, and so she did something about it. She created a game.
The game is called SPENT, and it's an online Flash program that puts users in the shoes of those unemployed and out of savings. When one plays, they quickly see that it's not poor choices that make people poor, but a lack of choices.
Nicholson said her inspiration for Spent came from the social-networking game FarmVille, in which players run virtual farms, often scrapping around for farm supplies. It made her wonder: What if there were a game where people had to instead figure out how they could live on frighteningly limited resources?
I played Spent and got through the month with a little cash to spare, but I made choices I wouldn’t make in real life, like letting my dog die to avoid a veterinary bill and denying my kid lunch money.
“It’s a morbidly fun game,” Nicholson said.
At least when it’s just a game.
Nicholson’s mother died at age 46 from her third heart attack. She never got proper care. She didn’t have health insurance, and California’s Medicaid program, Medi-Cal, denied her for years, Nicholson said.
“Her approval letter came three weeks after she died,” Nicholson said. “That was a huge lesson for me. Even as a poor kid, I had always thought, when you live in America, you’re going to be taken care of.”
While plenty of people don't need any sort of computer program to clue them into the devastation that poverty brings, but a good number of folks who think poverty could never happen to them might be surprised by the tough choices that must be faced.