"The gravitational pull of this interactive is tough to escape. The engaging narrative is powerful enough to help anyone identify with homelessness without feeling overly pious." —juror David Wright
"A realistic and humbling experience. The very specific decisions required for game play provides a better understanding of the fine line between 'hard times' and true poverty." —juror Kelly Goto
Overview: People assume that if they were laid off and had only a few bucks to their name, they would make good choices and get themselves back on track. This “game” about homelessness, for Urban Ministries of Durham is an immersive experience that challenges players to survive poverty and see firsthand that homelessness is just a simple shortfall away. The game requires players to work through a series of challenges, that involve tough choices about work, housing and providing for a family, that show how everyday decisions can lead to unimagined consequences. It shakes up assumptions and forces users to see that, sometimes, there are no good choices.
• The creative team spent a year in total on the project: several months, between paying projects, developing the concept, challenges and game mechanics and then a few more months designing and developing, around client work.
• Instead of a basic Facebook share button there's an "ask a friend for help" option; players can move to the next challenge without losing money but the price they pay is a humbling post on Facebook that asks friends for some type of support.
• As of December 12, the site's received 1,237,166 unique visitors and more than 2.1 million plays.
Comments by Carmen Bocanegra, Nick Jones and Jenny Nicholson:
What was the most challenging aspect of the project? "The biggest challenge was in developing the content. We wanted to make an experience that would be disturbing, but still have an impact. (The first nav item is a "Prove It" button. We knew it was a provocative way to engage users, but the 91 percent click-through rate was way beyond our expectations.) While at the same time, we knew it was a sensitive topic and wanted to be realistic. There were many content meetings with the client and with people who had experienced homelessness to make sure we were getting it right."
Did you learn anything new during the process? "Web browsing is such a passive experience. We consume information, photos and videos in a semiconscious state, void of emotion. What SPENT taught us is that visitors are willing to deeply engage in experiences that transport them to unfamiliar and uncomfortable places."
What impact has this project had on increasing awareness for the client? "As a result of SPENT, Urban Ministries of Durham has had a surge of visits to their website, an increase in volunteers and new donations totaling over $45,000. The most interesting thing about the fundraising element is that the vast majority of donations came from outside Durham, donors the organization never would have reached otherwise. Without a single dollar of paid media, the game has been played in 195 countries, been featured by media outlets and become an educational tool in classrooms from elementary schools through college."