Website review by Sol Joye, Common Sense Education | Updated December 2013


Provocative, first-person look at poverty builds empathy

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Subjects & Skills
Social Studies, Character & SEL, Critical Thinking

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Pros: Quick, compelling introduction to key social issue.

Cons: No additional resources to aid classroom use.

Bottom Line: It'll need some scaffolding, but for students ready for the subject matter it's a great -- if sobering -- way to illustrate to students the daily realities and struggles of poverty in America.

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 students understand monthly budgets or government policies that help/hinder poverty. In a social studies class, students could also research what it would be like to live in poverty in their local communities. Have students 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.

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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? 

Spent is one of those experiences that comes alive for students with the right scaffolding and extension. On their own, students should get a more relatable picture of what it's like to be poor in practical, everyday terms. However, teachers can help students 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 Rating


While it's not the most exciting experience -- students just click through it -- Spent's content is thought provoking, and sure to raise questions, incite discussion, and could fuel further research.


Spent's punishing, eye opening, choice-driven narrative helps students 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.

Common Sense reviewer
Sol Joye Classroom teacher

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Featured review by
Lisa B. , Classroom teacher
Classroom teacher
Hershey Middle School
Hershey, United States
Game that makes an abstract concept more concrete with a side of empathy.
This is another great game option from Games for Change. It works both on a computer and on a mobile device. The graphics are minimalist icons, but the message is strong. The students have to be able to read each prompt. The amount of reading means it does not work well for low literacy or ELL students. The game connects to social media if the students click on the Facebook or Twitter buttons. In their mind they are just part of the game, but it does violate the AUP by trying to access those social medi ...
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