Wednesday, 3 August 2011

A Game Of Profit And Loss

We've seen over the past week or so that sustainability and ethics need to be baked into the core of a company's mission statement. If they're not, then accusations of box-ticking and complacency are always going to be waiting around the corner, and a brand that can't quickly respond to those accusations has a PR disaster on their hands.

It's tough to get big complex corporate structures to understand why it's so important to make sure that their suppliers are run ethically and responsibly. Child labour and inhumane working conditions can seem like abstract concepts or easily explained away as a different cultural trait to a company whose focus is purely on the bottom line. Not everyone can have Pier32's ethical guidance, which comes from the very top of the corporate structure.

So, how do we put the issues involved in this complicated subject into a simple and easily understood form?

Well. Shall we play a game?

Channel 4 have just released Sweatshop, a game where you run a clothing factory staffed by skilled workers and child labour. Based on a simple tower defence model (think Cooking Dash, Plants Vs. Zombies or something similar), your job is to fill the orders as best you can while keeping profits high.

The clever thing about the game is how easy it becomes to make the wrong choices. It's quicker and easier to fill the production line with unskilled kids, and skimp on the essentials like cooling fans and toilet breaks, especially when a big order comes down the line.

But as you make those choices, your karma meter will begin to skew, and it soon becomes clear that by making the wrong choices you're losing the game and becoming a monster in the process.

Sweatshop is subtle and extremely clever at making the player think on the consequences of their actions, and slips in plenty of informational nuggets along the way. Aimed at a teenage audience, I see no reason why a lot of high-ups in the fashion chains that use sweatshops as a matter of course shouldn't have a go at it. Who knows, it might just change their thinking.

You can read more on the thinking and design behind Sweatshop here, and play it for yourself for free here.

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