Welfare State, a game about the anxieties of flirting with poverty

In high school, I played a game called Spent. This poverty simulator was a welcome distraction from an otherwise unbearable personal finance class. Spent begins by chiding you with the question: “You’d never need help, right?”

From there, it’s a juggling act of rent, groceries, activities for your kids, and random setbacks in the form of injuries and car repairs. In Spent, once you get the hang of it, you can keep your head above water for quite some time. In Randy O’Connor’s new iOS game Welfare State, however, you’ve already drowned.

Welfare State is, in O’Connor’s own words,”a stressful clicker laid over a contemplative poetry generator.” A lotus flower, representative of your life force, inhales and sighs in the background as you make mundane decisions about your spending—buying coffee, sending a gift, or throwing a few dollars in the donation basket at church. There are no tremendous gains or losses to be had here. Transactions never amount to more than five dollars. But those small margins illustrate just how thin the line between getting by and getting welfare can be.

you’ve already drowned

This game doesn’t want you to explore your fate. It’s clear from the start that you’ll go broke. The only question is, when? The finality and haste of it all gives the poetry, randomly generated from 250 phrases, depth it would otherwise lack. The poems can be rash or hauntingly beautiful:

“I always hesitate as I walk by.”

 “You came so fucking close.”

“There are so many here.”

The best part is, you’re the one that gives them meaning.

Welfare State resonated with me because it’s got soul. Its bohemian nature may understandably come off as pretentious to some. But, to a 20 year old desperately lacking in serotonin and cash, this millennialized, Bright Eyes-esque aestheticization of poverty isn’t all that far-fetched.

You can play Welfare State for free(!) on iOS.

Welfare State