Play Spent

Yesterday, Morocco over at Morocco’s Bazaar wrote that she had been using Spent as a way to connect her students’ literary understanding of The Hunger Games with real poverty and hunger.  While I had “played” this game before at home, I hadn’t actually remembered to take it to my students.  Because we just finished a unit on “Justice” in our literature book, I wanted them to see if they would or could connect the concept of justice to not being able to make it. Basically is poverty an issue of “justice”.

Before our unit test, I fired up the projector and posted the game.  Most were intrigued just by the 2009 statistics.  I forewarned them that I don’t have the typing skills to get a temp job.  They were stunned.  However, I pointed out that 55 words per minute of new text, and I’m assuming no errors, kept me from the running.  They were surprised that you could own a computer, type, and still not get a job doing that.

This left us with the choice of warehouse work or being a waitress.  We picked warehouse worker and moved on to the hard decisions like where to live, selling our stuff, and opting out of health insurance because it’s too expensive.  As the game progressed, the kids were often unhappy with the choices.  Very quickly moral and ethical decisions went out the window.  One actually said, “We can’t afford to do the right thing.”  Another noted, “Well, we have to buy the kid ice cream.  We didn’t let it go to a birthday party or a field trip.”  Yet another pointed out that “We need that $50.  We don’t need to see that school play.”  They were also very upset at how easily people could be fired for calling in sick, taking time off to meet with the school, or even talking about joining a union.  Yet, uniformly, when “Mom” needed $100 for medicine, they all knew they couldn’t “afford” it, but they had to do it.

The process of having to decide which bills to pay, when to be honest, how much time and money to give your child was pretty stressful.  They argued with each other and were upset at decisions made by one person that caused them to lose half their pay (“How come we weren’t told that would happen in the first place?”). One class only survived 22 days.  The other made it to the end of the month with $279, but rent was due the next day ($800), and they were unemployed. Generally felt like they (the person trying to “make it”) was being screwed.  Both sets were very dejected when it was over.

They were right of course.  No one is equal.  Life isn’t fair.  No one owes you something ’cause you’re here.  Yet, after all that, they wanted to play again.  They want to think that with the right choices would save them from poverty.  Therefore, I posted the site on my Facebook for them to “play” over the break.  We’ll also “play” again in class when they can all access computers and drive for themselves.

I think they think they will be able to make it.  I’m not sure how to help them when they realize that the cycle of poverty can be very difficult to break.  Plus, they may not like who they are as they try to get ahead.


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