New video game lets you be a lord of the sweatshop

Sweatshop Game


Your boss is hounding you to produce more t-shirts faster, but he’s not willing to give you more money to hire new employees. You have two choices: don’t meet his unrealistic expectations or higher children at 1/3 of the price of an adult worker?

These are the decisions you face in the new online game Sweatshop.

Sweatshop is a light-hearted game, but it’s based upon very present realities that many workers around the world contend with each day.

Littleloud and Channel 4 worked with experts on sweatshops to integrate some of these realities into the game design.

In addition, there are numerous facts and figures spread throughout the game, highlighting the plight of the workers who may well have made the clothes you are wearing today.

The review

The game is actually quite addictive. I like the retro graphics and sound track, which are very NES. Between levels, facts and stories about the industry are shared to remind the player that this is not a game. Facts like…

Of the total retail cost of a garment, less than 1% is shared between the people who made it in many sweatshops.

The thing I like best about the game is that you play from the POV of a middle manager and some times the right thing to do is a little ambiguous.

My biggest criticism is that, as the anti-sweatshop movement consistently does, it ignores poverty and doesn’t address the question: Why would someone work in these conditions for such horrible pay and poor treatment? To survive the game you’ll have to employee children and pay them less than an adult, but you never learn why it is that the child showed up at the factory in the first place.

The anti-sweatshop movement’s lack of effort to focus on poverty and utter lack of context holds it back from making more and lasting change within the industry.

As I write in Where Am I Wearing?

…it’s easy to inspire pity and to cry sweatshop. What’s not easy is coming to terms with the context in which the factories and workers exist and initiating dialogue based on this.

Sweatshop Game CVThe real problem

Sweatshop, the game, is heartbreaking and in a guilty sort of way fun. It’s both a reminder of both what is wrong with the garment industry and what’s wrong with the anti-sweatshop movement.

Sweatshops aren’t the problem. They are the symptom. The problem is poverty. The problem is an extreme lack of options. The workers can’t say, “take this job and shove it!” because they are on the edge of not feeding their families. So they suffer unreasonable demands, long hours, and bosses like me who made it to level nine before someone died. After working three workers to death (I forgot to give them water), I still won the level. I still made money.

And that’s where this game succeeds. Sometimes the wrong thing is the right thing for the company’s bottom line.


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