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?