Spent is a game about short-term personal finance, or the daily need to pinch pennies just to keep food on the table and provide a small levee against emergencies. Although the game's loose causal chain between decision and consequence (coupled with the emphasis on text-based delivery of information) provides a less pure procedural rhetorical model of poverty, it is nevertheless effective given an assumed target audience of middle-class teenagers and young adults. For many this game will merely serve as an exercise in sensitivity to the plights of the less fortunate (a balm to relieve conservative semantic engineering), perhaps inspiring a small donation at the end of the game. Instead of seeing Spent as a "call to action," it might be okay to settle for the more feasible--yet no less daunting or important--goal of educating young adults who are about to make decisions about whether to take out loans to go to college, keep an unwanted pregnancy, drop out of high school, or enter the job market.
Obviously it's wonderful to see indie developers who haven't engaged with the genre in the past sticking their toes in the water (or their necks on the block), but it's impossible to ignore that the most timely and nuanced entry in the series thus far has come from Paolo Pedercini, a grizzled veteran. That boy has had to roll his eyes through enough of my insufferable critiques in the past, so we'll only be looking at the latter two this week and next. If you're unfamiliar with the project, Joel Goodwin's blog Electron Dance is a great place to start for links to all the games, brief analysis and comparison, and a lengthy interview with Jonas Kyratzes (one of the two Wikileaks Stories project coordinators).
Damian Connolly's Wikileakers is the most recent of the three currently-extant Wikileaks Stories games. It's clearly the most accessible, and it has, perhaps, been written off as overly simplistic. And we can see why: it's more cartoonish than the previous Wikileaks Stories games, it uses Internet slang ("pron"), marijuana jokes, and cheap one-offs at the President, and it hinges on a somewhat conservative score-chasing goal structure. There's no gray area here: Assange is our hero (as pointed out by Goodwin, it's the only game that features him as the player character), and the "propaganda model" media is trying to keep him down.
Players control a pixellated Assange as he runs back and forth in what appears to be an FBI lobby, dodging lasers and bombs. The former represent corrupt media sources, while the bombs drop from a crane ominously labeled "PR" (the bombs themselves alternately accusing the man of being a terrorist and sexual deviant). Lasers constantly track Assange, stopping briefly to intermittently fire. Players can mouse-click to place single a block labelled "free press" that will obstruct exactly one laser shot before disappearing. While the first two media lasers bear American flags, Swedish and Australian media sources are added as the player's score increases.