Remember your Facebook notifications in 2009? Not particularly? Alright, let’s rephrase: remember these in your Facebook notifications in 2009?:
“Emily could really use some help fertilizing their crops in FarmVille!”
“Andrew, Liz and 4 other friends sent you requests in Mafia Wars!”
Ah, the days of scrolling through an endless sea of multicolored icons, each one pleading pixelated petunias that needed to be watered, or digital gangsters in need of arresting…wow, those cries for help were annoying, weren’t they? Especially considering that most of those requests, like the ones begging for “Farm Cash,” translated to essentially begging your Facebook friends for real world money, or at the very least, asked them to give up their time to help you with your game.
Or maybe you’re reading this and you’re cringing, because you were one of those virtual farmers, planting a fresh crop of notifications every day, feeling a sort of small scale embarrassment as you realize that the only way you can “survive” is to ask family and friends for support. And even if it was all just a simulation, and at the end of the day you could just return to your real life, you probably still found yourself invested in the idea of maintaining a life different from your own.
This combination of simulation intermingling with reality through roleplaying and Facebook requests is something powerful, and something that ad agency McKinney realized could be utilized for good. The agency created SPENT, a computer game awareness and fundraising campaign for client Urban Ministries of Durham, a charity whose mission "is to provide food, clothing, shelter and supportive services to neighbors in need.”
SPENT allows the player the opportunity to “experience” the challenges and hardships of living on just $1,000 a month, throwing out realistic dilemmas such as medical emergencies, family decisions and just the basic struggles of paying the rent and keeping the lights on. And if the player finds themselves in too deep at any point in the game, they have the option to allow SPENT to post a message to a Facebook friend’s profile on their behalf, stating, “I can’t pay all my bills this month. Can I borrow some money?” in order to foster that personal connection found in the FarmVille model.
Since its February 2011 launch, over 2 million players in more than 216 countries have chosen to simulate the SPENT lifestyle, creating massive amounts of awareness for UMD as the viral nature of the game created widespread praise from new media such as CNN and ABC.
If a player finds the stress of living on minimum wage too exhausting and clicks the “I can’t do this” button, the game will then prompt them to donate a suggest amount of $5 for a day’s meals for a person in need, alongside text reading, “This is too hard, isn’t it?” Solely through this donor solicitation tactic, UMD claims to have raised $45,000 from 25,000 new donors in a little under a year of SPENT going live.