Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Doing Good Doesn’t Have to Be Boring

A coworker passed on an interesting website to me because “You like to save money on food.” (Read: you are always getting weird stuff with your coupons.) raises awareness about the realities of unemployment and living on minimum wage by having you play a game. The purpose of the game is to not run out of money by the end of the month. It’s sponsored by Urban Ministries of Durham, an organization that provides food, clothing, shelter and other services to those in need in Durham, North Carolina.

At the beginning of the game, you can get one of three jobs, each of which has as low of a paycheck as you’d assume.

You pick your job and throughout the month have some decisions to make. Opt-in to the $275-a-month insurance? Live close to work and pay more than you make in rent, or work an hour away and pay oodles in gas? Every choice you make gives you some more information, such as the fact that health insurance premiums are so high that many low-income workers opt-out, and the lack of affordable housing is the number-one cause of homelessness.

By having to actually (theoretically) make these decisions yourself, you realize that working a minimum wage job can be a losing battle. Your car might break down. You might get sick. Your kid might get made fun of for eating free meals at school, and you might have to decide if it’s worth it to just put in money for lunch food. Or, your kid might get a birthday card from grandma and grandpa with $10 inside. Should you take it?

And sometimes, the best option is to ask a friend for help. This is one of the most creative uses of Facebook integration I’ve seen as of late. For example, when you have to move to a smaller, more affordable apartment, you have the option of renting a storage unit, selling your stuff or asking a friend to store it. When you ask a friend, you have the option to share it on Facebook, which is a great way to share the game and its message with your network. You can also ask a friend to babysit or take a look at your car when it starts making funny noises.

At the end of the month (if you even make it that far), you have the option to donate money to the organization or learn about other ways to get involved.

I poked around a little bit and found out that the game was designed by McKinney, a Durham-based agency. I like that a local agency did this. Also, I read on their blog that their employees are allowed to bill 10 percent of their time to “innovation” and “trying cool stuff.” I really like that.

Have a look at the game yourself and you’ll see what I can’t really sum up here. It’s cool, well-designed and effective. I really hope the Urban Ministries of Durham gets some more donations and volunteers because of it.

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