Friday, May 07, 2010

Sim*Sweatshop and "Persuasive" Games

I teach a 3-day lesson on the impact of globalization that focuses on sneaker design, manufacture, and distribution.  Pros and cons of free trade are discussed, as well as working conditions in garment factories.  Today my students played Sim*Sweatshop, which simulates conditions in a sneaker factory in a developing country.

The "fun" aspect is racing to complete the required 3 shoes in your 12-hour shift (actually 60 seconds, ticking away stressfully).  As your shift wears on, you get tired and have to spend some of your hard-earned wages to buy food and drink, or work more slowly.  Periodically, you are asked to make decisions, like whether to start a union or work an unpaid overtime shift. The more you play, the more you realize that while you can get by for awhile, there's really no way to "win."  The game has a section called "What's the Story?"  where the concepts in the game are explained (and sourced, which I appreciate).  I realized I need to make sure to use those sections when debriefing so that students are actually getting the point instead of just racing to make shoes.

I have used persuasive games/games for change several times this year, including Oiligarchy, Darfur is Dying, Against All Odds, and Ayiti: The Cost of Life.  Some court controversy than others (Oiligarchy is particularly biting in its criticism of Big Oil).  These games 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!) 

Developing a "filter" for media consumption is just as important as learning the "official" curriculum, and I don't see it being taught as much as I would like.

Do you use "persuasive" online games in your classroom? Which ones, and what do you think are best practices when using them?

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