By Alec Meer on July 18th, 2011 at 12:32 pm.
Ooh, this is clever. It’s the new free web game from Littleloud, they of The Curfew and Bow Street Runner. Like those, Sweatshop‘s noble aim is to expertly mate education and social conscience with smart and satisfying game mechanics. In this case, it’s a canny twist upon tower defence games that also highlights the abject horror and terrible exploitation of sweatshop factories – and the most dangerous enemy in the game is your own impulse to succeed.
So, you’re the floor manager of a sweatshop, charged by your shouty, inhuman but unsettlingly entertaining boss with making as much as possible as quickly as possible as cheaply as possible. This entails materials zipping along a production line, and you then hiring and assigning the right workers to construct and pack them. You’ll also need to weigh upgrading your workers and maintaining their health and mental state with simply hiring cheap new guys to plug the gaps.
It’s tower defence, even if the cutesy management game appearance and lack of laserbeams might suggest otherwise. Challenges include a fast turnover of crappy hats and shirts for a shop chain called Crymark. No idea who that’s a reference to. None at all.
Snark aside, Sweatshop’s true cleverness is that a lifetime of gaming will compel you to be as efficient as the horrific bastard in charge demands, and the game even throws achievement-esque rewards at you for fulfilling his unforgiving criteria. You’ll feel like you’re doing your job well. That’s the point.
Except it isn’t. The point is that you’re treating your employees very, very badly. You’re costing their happiness, you’re harming their bodies and you’re risking their lives. Do you care? Can you find a balance whereby the company’s profits are decent but no-one’s suffering unduly? The comedy turns dark and there’s choice about how to tackle it, but you’ll need to ask serious questions of yourself.
Give it a go. See how well your gamer’s urges mesh with your conscience. Here’s a trailer while you mull it over.
Rest assured that, thanks to playful, often very funny writing and well-timed interjections, the game isn’t crassly preachly. It picks its moments extremely wisely and it wants you to understand, not be brow-beaten into empathy. This is the game that you should definitely be playing today.