Fashion

Sim*Sweatshop

Blouse

Year: 2006

Type: computer game

Concept, graphics & game programming: Jonny Norridge (website, twitter)

Back end development: Gavin Courntey

Commissioned by: NOW Nottingham & The Arts Council UK

Availability: free access to original game in English (2006 here), translated into German (2014 here) and Bulgarian (2015 here), and adapted to become Unfair Factory (2012 here)

Page reference: Coakley, D., Johnson, J., Li, J., Mitchell, G., Saxton, J., & Weake, T. (2018) Sim*Sweatshop. followthethings.com (http:// followthethings.com/simsweatshop.shtml last accessed <add date here>)

Screen grab

[click image to play game]

 

Descriptions

A swell online game that really, really sucks (Source: Leonard 2006, np link).

Put yourself in the shoes (no pun intended) of a sweatshop worker (Source: Anon 2015a, np link).

Most people, whether they’ve worked in a sweatshop or not, probably already know that they suck. But there’s a nifty way this game brings a little extra to the table that makes it something more than just your average dose of pro-worker propaganda (Source: Leonard 2006, np link).

It’s 4am. You’ve had 3 hours sleep and you last ate two days ago. You’re grateful for your hourly rate of 20 cents. But you’ll be forced to work more than you twelve hour shift if you don’t meet you quota of sports shoes for today. Your hands are raw from stitching leather to plastic. And you’re only thirteen years old. Sim Sweatshop invites you to play an interactive on-line game based in a sports shoe factory. But sadly you must first become a virtual sweatshop worker (Source: Anon 2006a, np link).

Do kids care about how their clothes are made? To help get them thinking and acting, a group of artists called NOW in the British city of Nottingham have developed an online game called ‘Sim Sweatshop’ (Source: Anon 2007, 27 link).

Welcome to Sim Sweatshop, an online game that seeks to increase awareness of the appalling conditions many workers in the developing world face every day (Source: Oliver nd, np link).

Hello worker. Welcome to the sports shoe factory. I want you to make 3 sports shoes by the end of the day. Drag the pieces of the shoe on to the correct place on the guide shoe. The piece will flash and your will hear a ‘ping’ sound when it is in the correct place (Source: Anon 2006b, np link).

[The] Player simulates being a worker in an overseas sweatshop producing sneakers for the American consumer. A role-playing game designed to raise awareness and help teach about economics and justice (Source: Anon 2015b, np link).

If you don’t have time to read a 300 page book on sweatshops, by playing games like these, you learn the knowledge of the conditions people are subjected to working in the sweatshops of developing countries (Source: Anon 2016, np link).

You are invited to enter the world of the sweatshop and become a factory worker. Do you accept the challenge? Can you tirelessly make sports shoes for less than a dollar a hour as you struggle to support your family? Let the game begin (Source: Anon 2006c, np link).

The rules are straightforward, although harsh; ‘A standard working day is 12 hours. Work hard to fulfil your quota and you will be paid your full wage. But if you make a mistake or fail to complete your quota your pay will be docked’ (Source: Buttle 2008, np link).

Throughout the game, the player is presented with options and situations via pop-up windows. These require reading, and refer to a variety of sweatshop related issues (Source: Ferlazzo 2008, np link).

Sim Sweatshop has something of the grotesque about it. The aim of the game is to put together three sports shoes before the end of the working day, by using the mouse to move and place pieces on a template (Source: Oliver 2010, 102) .

The clock ticks away while you frantically try to put the trainers together (Source: Crewe 2008, np link).

It’s about making at least three pairs of shoes in a certain amount of time (Source: Nick 2009, np link).

You have to slave away doing 12 hour shifts just to put food on the table and support your family (Source: Anon 2016, np link).

If you work hard all day (12 hours), you will be paid your full wage of $6.05. Making mistakes will cost you dear (Source: Miss Ellis 2007, np link).

If money runs low, it is a struggle to buy food, and the shoes become blurry as tiredness sets in (Source: Beyerstein 2006, np link).

Players … [use their] pathetic wage to buy drink and food to stop their energy bar from disappearing (Source: Oliver 2006, np link).

Once your energy levels fall below 48%, it is suggested that you purchase a meal and a drink. A meal will cost you $1.49, and a drink is $0.29. This leaves you with very little money to take home, if any at all (Source: Anon 2016, np link).

… you need to be careful about your energy bar in the top-right hand corner, if your energy bar gets low you will need to buy food or drink. You can do this by clicking the energy bar or by buying something when the warning comes up (Source: Nick 2009, np link).

In addition, what the rules don’t state are that you will be forced to work overtime without extra pay and when you are given the chance to form a union your employer hires a gang of thugs to beat you up (Source: Buttle 2008, np link).

It is possible to save a bit of money and improve your condition, but in reality you are mostly living day by day (Source: Anon 2016, np link).

… it is a timely and appropriate way of trying to reach young consumers and inform them about sweatshops (Source: Oliver 2006, np link).

The game gets you hooked from the start even though it is simple and repetitive (Source: Anon 2016, np link).

A modern update of … Charlie Chaplin’s ‘Modern Times’ (Source: The Perthian Back Burner nd, np link).

Play for a little while; have fun; and then think (Source: nacho nomadlife nd, np link).

… there’s really no way to ‘win’ (Source: Lisa S. 2010, np link

Inspiration / Process / Technique / Methodology

This game is a response to the stories of factories and workers from around the world. Factories that produce the products we buy. There are many stories that can be told about the reality of life for the factory workers (Source: Anon 2006b, np link).

The purpose of the interactive piece is to highlight the injustice of the global manufacturing industry, particulary the unfair wages and working conditions of those who work in sweatshops around the world (most notably Asia and Latin America) (Source: Norridge 2006a, np).

[Sim*Sweatshop is] a didactic, ‘interactive artwork’ created by Johnny Norridge for NOW, an arts group in Nottingham, England (Source: Leonard 2006, np link).

Simsweatshop is well researched and designed, and has a series of useful references with back-stories about workers’ lives (Source: Norridge 2008, np link).

To help kids understand the context, there are ‘What’s the Story’ educational pieces taken from the UK [Clean Clothes Campaign] (Labour Behind the Label), the book No Logo by Naomi Klein, Oxfam, and others. This game could be used as an awareness-raising tool in an educational setting where students also are provided with access to positive examples of solidarity action (Source: Anon 2007, 27 link).

… if you click on ‘What’s the Story?’ there is lots of information about sweatshops, why they exist, the companies that use them, and what can be done about them (Source: Miss Ellis 2007, np link).

[It] uses the form of a Flash game, and incorporates the gaming approach to carry the concepts and issues surrounding low wage labor (Source: Norridge 2006b, np link).

It will be [work with] all the major web browsers (with the Flash Payer installed) including: Internet Explorer (PC), Firefox (PC & Mac), Safari (Mac). If technicalities allow, a save function will be added allowing users to save the money they've earned so far and return to add to that at a later point (Source: Norridge 2006a, np).

The use of a game to spread information about the reality of sweatshop labour is particularly innovative, and we hope this game will pique the interest of a new generation of young consumers, currently being targeted by initiatives such as MTV’s initiative with Radiohead, and the BBC’s new ‘Thread‘ magazine  (Source: Norridge 2008, np link).

Discussion / Responses

The game is worryingly realistic (Source: Buttle 2008, np link).

Very interesting manner in which to address sweatshops (Source: Daughters of the Heart of Mary 2015, np link).

A really cool, and frustrating game raising the awareness of working in a sweatshop (Source: Pyke 2015, np link).

Simsweatshop is brilliant and self-explanatory (Source: Baker 2006, np link).

Very good game Especially when you can become very rich by becoming a shoemaker!! very good game (Source: lad92 2007, np link).

There’s a game called sim sweatshop … wtf (Source: @sammyhanson 2016 np link).

The game was fun to play! Well, I say ‘fun’, [but] ... (Source: Jack in Cook et al. 2015, np link).

Warning, this might bring you to tears (Source: Bowman 2012, np link).

It is excellent but be ready to feel uncomfortable (Source: Gordon 2006, np link).

This [is] so not fair on day one I was almost broke and I only made to day four. This is not fair to people who work so hard and can’t hardly afford food for a couple of days. They deserve better lives than what they have (Source: Hill 2015, np link).

This is a pretty vivid reminder that while the materials are cheap but there is a human cost (Source: Deuman 2006, np link).

It’s an endless cycle: if you want to make money, you need energy, and for energy, you need to use money to buy food. Which means you have to work more… it’s a no-win situation (Source: Lee 2015, np link).

When I played, I was given the option to join a union or to have my workload doubled. When I joined the union, I was fired (Source: Deibert 2015, np link).

Today we had to play a game about making shoes and I don’t like it because it’s boring because every five seconds the energy thing pops up, its STUPID & FUSTRATING (Source: Daedrelog67 2009, np link)!

It was boring and really bugged me because little letter things keep coming uo and saying weird stuff. I dont like that game because it was sssoooo boring and just not my tipe…. I recom it would be really frustrating working in a real workshop and having to do that.. I NEVER WANNA PLAY IT AGAIN (Source: Jessie 2009, np link).

Unfortunately, the majority of the gameplay consists of dragging and dropping shoe pieces onto a template and does not really contribute to any learning (Source: Ferlazzo 2008, np link).

The game is boring. Could it be that it was meant to be this way? Sometimes work isn’t interesting, it is repetitive and dull, but you have to take these types of jobs to survive. There is also an empathy issue; can you put yourself in the boots of others (Source: Tony_Cassidy 2007a, np link)?

While it might be incredibly frustrating to play imagine if this was the reality of your life (Source: Rob 2007, np link)?!

… this isn’t just a game to some people, it’s actually their life, and they have to live it (Source: Zheng 2015, np link).

i thought it was dead hard cause it went dead fast and you ran out of energy quickly (Source: snelly 2007, np link)!!

Oh no! I got sacked because I was too hungry and tired from lack of food that I couldn’t continue to work (Source: Mazdak 2010, np link)!

I worked hard for two days and I found the work very strenuous. I didn’t think that the pay was nearly enough for the amount of work being put out (Source: Nicholson 2015, np link).

Im blown away by how the games [shows] how the workers are treated. That was so much more difficult than I thought it was going to be. I didn’t get paid well and I didn’t have much money for food or water, the most essential parts of human life. For people that work this hard they don’t need to be treated this way (Source: Brown 2015, np link).

I worked for 6 days and I had to forgo buying shoes for my 'daughter', which resulted in me losing energy and not being to replace it. I lost soon after that. The food and drink cost compared to the wage you can earn a day makes it very hard to keep your finances afloat. Though I did have a glitch when I tried again where at the end of the day, it would give me my wage over and over again even though it said I had been paid, so I waited, and I got $50... Yikes (Source: Lee 2015, np link).

I wasn't able to play the game because I needed a newer adobe flash player. I read some comments and the game sounds like it is pretty hard to get what you need to survive (Source: Anonymous 2015, np link).

Does this game simulate sweatshop life? Does it provide interesting food for thought? What are some of the best ways to educate consumers about factory life (Source: NGWFUND 2008, np link)?

[Games like Sim*Sweatshop] provide opportunities for media literacy – does the game have a ‘point of view’ or bias? Is it constructed to predetermine a certain outcome? Did it convince or persuade you to agree with its point of view? Why or why not? (I always stress that it is okay to be persuaded by a good argument!) (Source: Lisa S. 2010, np link).

… the more one plays the more the game risks becoming a test, not of compassion, but of keyboard skills, as the emphasis moves from the tragedy of unfair labour to the players’ relative dexterity with the controls. In the end, it becomes more important to play (and win) than to identify and empathize with the people we are supposed to be thinking about (Source: Oliver 2010, 102).

Is it the responsibility of the consumer to know where and how their items are made? Get a bloody grip, do not have a go at under 25s who understandably do not know where their clothes come from it is manafacturers and manafacturers alone who can stop this. Or yes we could boycott all products not made in the West and then watch how the dreadfull wages of sweatshop workers disappears into nothing as they lose their job? The consumer is not at fault here, and it should not be the consumers responsibility to find out (Source: Svenny 2006, np link).

‘Is it the responsibility of the consumer to know where and how their items are made?’ Yes, I think it is, what an unbelievably complacent, smug comment. … you do not have to be accomplice to sweat shop labour. Get off your bottom and take the time to find out where and how the things you buy are made (Source: juliecat 2006, np link).

Obviously this game is going to be a big hit with the youth of Britain. I can see them now swapping online characters, staying up all night to finish the next level. Jesus, how much bloody council tax is given to these kind of ridiculous projects (Source: rackaline 2006, np link).

Impact / Outcomes

I definitely would recommend you to integrate this once in your classes. Students are super excited and learn a lot from. This way they get a lot of respect for people who work in such conditions and they will stop when more t-shirts buy cheap shops. They will consider whether they buy or not (Source: Nathalie 2016, np link).

This is a great online resource to use when teaching about sweatshops. It educated students on the conditions of people working within sweatshops in developing counties. It teaches you the economic and social aspects of living in a developing nation, trying to make a living working in a shoe factory. … My class spent the last 20 minutes of the lesson playing the game and after we spent a few minutes talking about how it made them feel. For most students, it made them really understand just how hard it is to be a sweatshop worker and they had a more compassionate outlook and a greater desire to learn more and try to resolve this problem (Source: Wilson 2013, np link).

Fancy living like that for real and not earning enough money to keep your family fed and clothed. Should make us appreciate the amount of effort needed to make a pair of shoes like that (Source: Miss W. 2009, np link).

The unfairness of this game goes to show that this is what it is like in the real world, and how people shouldn’t have to work in conditions like this (Source: Clark 2015, np link).

maybe it’ll actually cause us to start caring about people who really live in those situations (Source: ilooklikebuddyholly.blogspot nd, np link).

I think that there should be laws against things like that and that we should be prepared to pay more money for things if it means that poor people in other countries get treated better (Source: Caitlin 2007, np link).

Commissioned by the [UK Trades Union Council] and Labour Behind the Label [Sim*Sweatshop was upgraded for the Playfair 2012 campaign, changing wages to] £3.79 for a full days work [but kept the rules as] a standard working day … is 12 hours. Work hard and you will be paid your full wage. If you make a mistake you will be punished accordingly (Source: Anon nda, np link).

Hello worker. Welcome to the sports product factory. You are required to make 4 different products over the next 4 days of work. Today I want you to make 3 caps. Drag the pieces of the product on to the correct place on the guide product. The piece will flash and your will hear a ‘ping’ sound when it is in the correct place (Source: Anon nda, np link).

The Playfair 2012 campaign wants organisers of the London Olympics, the International Olympic Committee, and big sportswear brands who make mass profits from the games to ensure that workers producing sportswear and goods for the Olympics have their rights respected (Source: Anon ndb, np link).

TAKE ACTION. A living wage is a human right, but for many workers in the garment industry this is a right denied. Ask the major sportswear brands what they are doing to ensure the rights of the workers who make their products. Fill in the form below and send a message of concern directly to the decision-makers at Adidas, Nike and Pentland … Dear Herbert Hainer, CEO Adidas, Mark Parker (CEO Nike) & Andy Rubin (CEO Pentland owners of Mitre, Ellesse and Speedo), I want to enjoy watching London 2012, knowing that the workers who have helped deliver the Games, have had their rights respected. In particular I want to know they have been paid a living wage, are able to join trade unions and bargain collectively and have the job security and legal rights that only proper long term employment contracts can provide. Please tell me what you are doing to ensure that all owrkers making sport wear and merchandise in your supply chains are receiving these rights. Sincerely (Source: Anon nda, np link).

Step Into Her Trainers is a teaching pack aimed at Fashion & Textiles related courses, Citizenship, and Geography, at KS4, A-level and BTEC. This pack was produced for the Playfair 2012 campaign, calling for better conditions for workers in sportswear and merchandise factories worldwide. … Activity 4: Unfair Factory. ... What you do: 1. Allow students time to play the game. 2. Ask for some feedback: What problems did you encounter? What happened when you joined the union? What was the most frustrating thing about the game? 3. Ask participants to research and write a short report on workers’ rights and the issues faced by workers employed in garment factories using the ‘What’s the Story?’ function on the game (Source: Anon 2010, 1 & 10 link).

Teaching unions provide a valuable platform to achieve national awareness and action [for Playfair 2012]. To this end, teaching packs produced for Key Stage 2 & 3 and for Key Stage 4 / A level [in the UK]. 680 were distributed by teaching and other unions and 1,500 downloaded. The related online game Unfair Factory had over 19,000 visitors. The packs were developed collaboratively by Playfair 2012 partners working with teachers coordinated by a facilitator. The resources developed made workers’ rights relevant to teachers and pupils via the Olympics and generated initial interest. While feedback was not returned by busy teachers, unions know that most packs ordered will have been used by at least one teacher if not more, and anecdotal feedback was very positive. “We liked the fact that the pack offers opportunities to consider solutions as well as problems, which is empowering for young people and gives them hope. Great materials, thank you!” Kathryn Kabra, Geography tutor, Primary PGCE course, University of East London, Stratford (Source: Evans 2012, 5 link).

Sources / Further Reading

@sammyhanson (2016) There is a game called sim sweatshop… wtf. twitter.com, 15th November (https://twitter.com/sammyhanson/status/798601433486495745 last accessed 30th June 2017)

Amy (2007) Comment on Tony_Cassidy (2007b) Sim*Sweatshop. sharegeography.co.uk, 20th March (http://sharegeography.co.uk/2007/03/20/simsweatshop/ last accessed 4th July 2017)

Anon (2006a) Life with Christ. anabaptist.lifewithchrist.org. 18th August (http://anabaptist.lifewithchrist.org/permalink/26076.html last accessed 28 October 2012)

Anon (2006b) Sim*Sweatshop. simsweatshop.com (http://www.simsweatshop.com/game/ last accessed 4th July 2017)

Anon (2006c) Sim*Sweatshop. simsweatshop.com (http://www.simsweatshop.com/ last accessed 4th July 2017)

Anon (2007) ‘Sim Sweatshop’: Be a Virtual Sports Shoe Worker. in Anon (ed) Clean Clothes Newsletter no.23. May, 27 (https://digitalcommons.ilr.cornell.edu/globaldocs/46/ last accessed 2nd July 2018)

Anon (2010) Step into her trainers. Labour Behind the Label. (http://labourbehindthelabel.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/Step-Into-her-Trainers-2011.pdf last accessed 3 July 2018)

Anon (2015a) Sim Sweatshop. 9thsummerreading.blogspot.co.uk (http://9thsummerreading.blogspot.co.uk/2015/05/okay-so-you-guys-love-to-play-games.html last accessed 30th June 2017)

Anon (2015b) Sim Sweatshop: Simulation game. fuse.education.vic.gov.au, 14th April (https://fuse.education.vic.gov.au/Resource/LandingPage?ObjectId=caa71301-f7fd-4ec6-9358-b6460c49568b&SearchScope=All last accessed 30th June 2017)

Anon (2016) Sim Sweatshop. ecogamer.org, 27th September (https://www.ecogamer.org/social-activism/sim-sweatshop/ last accessed 4th July 2017)

Anon (nda) Playfair 2012 Campaign. playfair2012.org.uk (http://www.playfair2012.org.uk/game/ last accessed 27th June 2014)

Anon (ndb) About. playfair2012.org.uk (http://www.playfair2012.org.uk/about-2/ last accessed 27th June 2014)

Anon (ndc) FEATURED. simsweatshop.com (http://www.simsweatshop.com/media/featured.html last accessed 4th July 2017)

Anonymous (2015) Comment on Anon (2015) Sim Sweatshop. 9thsummerreading.blogspot.co.uk, 24th July (http://9thsummerreading.blogspot.co.uk/2015/05/okay-so-you-guys-love-to-play-games.html last accessed 30th June 2017)

Baker, J (2006) simsweatshop – worship trick 76 [second series]. jonnybaker.blogs.com, 23rd  August (http://jonnybaker.blogs.com/jonnybaker/2006/08/simsweatshop_wo.html last accessed 4th July 2017)

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Daughters of the Heart of Mary (2015) Very interesting manner in which to address sweatshops… share what you learn from this game. Facebook, 13th February (https://www.facebook.com/DHM.sisters/posts/793063474105349 last accessed 30th June 2017)

Deibert, C. (2015) Comment on Anon (2015) Sim Sweatshop. 9thsummerreading.blogspot.co.uk, 26th July, (http://9thsummerreading.blogspot.co.uk/2015/05/okay-so-you-guys-love-to-play-games.html last accessed 30th June 2017)

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Evans, L.M. (2012) Impact study: Playfair 2012 project and campaign. TUC & Labour Behind the Label (https://www.tuc.org.uk/sites/default/files/Playfair_2012_Impact_Study.pdf last accessed 3 July 2018)

Ferlazzo, L. (2008) Sim Sweatshop. esletc.com, 19th March (http://www.esletc.com/2008/03/19/sim-sweatshop/ last accessed 4th July 2017)

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Compiled by Declan Coakley, Jack Johnson, Josh Li, Georgie Mitchell, Jack Saxton and Tom Weake, edited by Jennifer Hart, Caroline Weston Goodman & Ian Cook (last updated July 2018). Page created for followthethings.com as part of the University of Exeter undergraduate Geographies of Material Culture module, and edited with the help of internship funding by the University of Exeter and the Kone Foundation. Thanks to Jonny Norridge for kind permission to include the screenshot & for sharing documents. Product image used under Creative Commons licence from here, with background removed.