SPENT: The Real Cart Life?

Recently, my GWSS class discussed the difficulties individuals of lower socioeconomic status face on a daily basis, and their negative psychological implications. Afterward, to inspire a better understanding of the material, my professor encouraged the class to go to this link and accept the challenge: playspent.org. (Robin also made a post about this game earlier on in the quarter. I thought it would be interesting to extend said post by opening SPENT‘s gameplay up to discussion, and linking it to specific content we have discussed in class.)

Having played Cart Life for this course, I immediately drew many parallels between its messages and the ones conveyed in SPENT – juggling childcare and trying to obtain an income can lead to some very difficult decisions, getting money (when funds are sparse) must be prioritized over any sort of socializing activities, paying attention to even the smallest of purchases – like buying certain foods over others – becomes important to survival quickly, etc. However, I thought it was very interesting how these two games managed to express their concepts in pretty different ways.

If you decide to accept the challenge, I would be very curious to hear (well, I suppose read) your thoughts on the comparison. Which game do you, personally, think was more effective at demonstrating the realities of this demographic’s experiences, and why? Do you think it’s more beneficial to put characters and thus, faces, to the struggles, or for players to be treated as though they are part of the demographic in question? Did the expressive elements of SPENT compare to those of Cart Life, and somehow enhance your experience? How could a game like SPENT be more impactful – or do you think it already is? (Perhaps if it’s not, would adding attributes from Cart Life, like mundane and repetitive ergodic work, make it more so?) Thanks! :)

1 Comment on SPENT: The Real Cart Life?

  1. First, thank you, Mariah! This is an awesome resource, and I’m excited to get into the meat of it with you!

    So, to give some context on my play experience, I actually said “Wow” when it brought up a Facebook post when I asked friends for money, and not because I was disappointed. It took me until the last one to realize (outside of the diegetic space of the game) that it was sort of a “get out money free card” in that it cost no money and all I needed to do was lose the window. So, there’s that.

    As to your first question, I think that neither one is “more effective” in any true, objective way. It’s a question of whether playing a character (Cart Life) or playing a role (SPENT) appeals to you more. If I may, here’s a different example. You’re playing a game, and in it you play as the president of the US. Which would be “more effective” to YOU in conveying the difficulties of the presidency – putting yourself as Mariah in as the role of President, or the game asking you to be Barrack Obama, Andrew Jackson, FDR? I don’t think either would be “more effective” but they would be conveying slightly different messages in slightly different ways. My gut tells me that it’s a question of sympathy and empathy, but on this issue I don’t trust it because even when playing a character in a game, you still empathize with them.

    Beyond this, they’re trying to convey similar messages in very different ways. SPENT kicks open the door, says “Look, this shit is hard. Try an abstraction of it for literally five minutes, then help out somebody who actually has to live it,” then walks out. Quick, bite sized, but still powerful. The designers’ choice to attach posting on Facebook to asking friends for help is one of the most powerful choices they have here – “Oh, OK, you’ll ask a friend. Go do that then,” and it reminds you that it’s REALLY HARD TO ASK FRIENDS FOR MONEY, discouraging you from doing that again and making the abstraction a little more real.

    Cart Life, though, is a deeper, slower burn. It’s a grind. It invites you in, and it just doesn’t want to let you go. It gets a lot more to the affective, mental, perputal toil of being a member of the working poor. It still says the same things as SPENT, just, slower and with slightly different synonyms.

    So, again, to say one or the other is “more impactful” is really, in my opinion, a false decision. Sure, you could argue that the time-economics and “sharability” of SPENT could make it have a wider impact on more people, but I don’t think that hits at (what I’m interpreting to be) the heart of your question. Hope my opinions don’t sund absolutely off-base!

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