Sweatshop

Sweatshop is a game from Channel 4 where you play as a factory manager trying to produce knock-off designer clothing. As you can tell by the title, it’s a game with a clear message that doesn’t pull any punches. There are real-world statistics and quotes about sweatshops between each level that set the game’s argument out clearly.

Wrapping around this dirty, depressing reality about sweatshops is an airy, bubbly art style and an upbeat chiptune soundtrack. Your missions are given by a jovial factory owner, who is constantly laughing and inappropriately joking with the young child he has employed to work in his factory. Meanwhile, when his back is turned, you face innocent but sometimes painfully unaware questions from the small disheveled child you are ordering about. The fashion designers talk down to the factory owner in the cutscenes, which causes him to turn around and passive-aggressively take it out on you by upping your quotas.

Still, hats and shirts have to be made, and the game presents this challenge in the form of a tower defense. Ingredients come down the conveyor belt and you place workers along the belt to combine them into clothing. You have a quota to fill and you can upgrade your workers with training or give them water, fans and radios to motivate them. Alternately, when they collapse due to exhaustion, you can just fire them and replace them. You even have the choice of hiring semi-skilled workers or just hiring children and working them till they collapse.

The contrast between the cheery visuals and depressingly bleak story make this game far more interesting than an average ‘educational’ game. You can even send your sweatshop items to your friends on Facebook, which is so eerily similar to FarmVille that it has to be intentional.

Talking Points: Does this work as a message game? Do you get the message better than you would through a documentary? How well does the sometimes frantic pace of the gameplay communicate the idea of a sweatshop? Are the ‘evil’ choices here as effective as the ‘good’ ones?

[size=20]Play Now[/size]

Comments

So, I spent all day looking at this on the first page not wanting to play it. "Sweatshop" just sounded like something that would make me, uh, hate myself.

You can even send your sweatshop items to your friends on Facebook, which is so eerily similar to FarmVille that it has to be intentional.

I imagine they saw it as a good way to spread the game. People will see the gift on FB and click it only to be taken to an educational game.

Man, I sure did like that music ... at first. Then it just got annoying after a while.

This game is much longer than I thought it would be. There are three friggin factories. Wow. That explains why the factoids are only shown after you complete a level as there are 30 levels or so.

But the real question is, does it get its message across. Yes, but it takes some time to do so. At first things don't seem so bad, it's just about hiring enough individuals, but then it becomes about deciding if you should give them water or not. That's a pretty crazy decision to have to make: water or dead employee.

The problem I have with the game as a message is that it takes entirely too long to get to the point where things get crazy. All through the first factory it didn't have an impact for me. The kids are too cutesy and the workers just go to sleep when they're exhausted. It's only because I'm taking the time to reflect that the game seems, well, bleak. I don't know if the pacing of the message works with the pacing of the game. The way they slowly introduce gameplay elements is pretty spot on for a casual player, but I don't know if most people will hang around long enough for the message to get to them.

Yeh, the 'happy-go-lucky' tone emphasised the message, but I think it might be a little too 'happy-go-lucky'. It seemed like the message was miss-able, if you didn't read the inter-level blurbs.

I like it, though it does go a bit long. Eventually, like the topic, you start to stop caring.

I found myself caring a lot about the messages between levels. However, the 'humorous' dialogue before each mission got tedious quickly. I understand that the game was trying to victimize the laborers and villainize the various companies through the dialogue, but it got old quickly.

I've studied Operations Management at college and the factory layouts were driving me insane. I found myself wanting to redesign the layout and specialize processes more than I wanted to place workers in bizzarre roles that could only rival the logic of the folks behind the diner dash spin-offs.

I think the game did a good job of pacing the obstacles that present hazards to real sweatshop workers though. Introducing concepts like water, bathrooms, and dangerous work environments seemed to help remind me that my workers were always at risk. I think that the incentive system for factory features detracted from the game's message though. Having happy workers (one's cooled by a fan, or able to use a bathroom) lead to increased profits conflicts with the coinciding business practices. It would have made more sense to me to have product quality and production rates affect the financial reports more visibly.

Yeah I noticed that too (not that Im very far, I dont have a lot of time to play). Quite often I got better results by upgrading workers rather than working them to death.... unless that is the point?

Nosferatu wrote:

Yeah I noticed that too (not that Im very far, I dont have a lot of time to play). Quite often I got better results by upgrading workers rather than working them to death.... unless that is the point?

I think that must be the point. I don't feel nearly as terrible as I ought to running a sweatshop.