Image: Game The News
Two things are clear about 'My Cotton Picking Life', a new computer game set in the cotton fields of Uzbekistan. One: it's not a very good game. And two: it's not entertaining for a reason.
The game puts you in the role of a child picking cotton in the fields of Uzbekistan. You click a button to pick some cotton. Then you do it again. And then again.
In order to reach your daily quota for cotton, you'd have to spend about eight hours in front of the computer screen, repeating the same action again and again. It's a tedious process, and there's really no reason anyone would choose to complete a day's worth of gaming.
That's exactly the point. As Radio Free Europe says, the game's designers want players to understand, "you can quit playing whenever you want, but a child labourer in Uzbekistan cannot."
The issue of child labourers being forced to pick cotton has received a lot of international attention in recent years. According to the Cotton Campaign, an organization dedicated to ending the practice, the government of Uzbekistan under President Islam Karimov has forced adults and children as young as 10 to pick cotton each harvest season.
For years, schools were closed for the season by government order, and schoolchildren were sent into the fields to work.
An Uzbek boy pulls a bag full of cotton onto a truck in a 1997 photo (Image: Reuters)
Recent attention has led to some changes, however. International clothing companies including H&M, Adidas and Marks and Spencer boycotted Uzbeki cotton in protest, and the government has reduced the use of child labour since.
In October 2012, though, the BBC reported on a new problem: doctors and nurses have been forced into the field to pick up the production slack left behind by the children, many of whom are now allowed to remain in school.
Child labour has not been eradicated in the country, however. Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported in January that "Uzbek authorities have increased the use of forced labour by adults and older children in the cotton sector during the past year."
HRW says the authorities made the move "to shift the burden away from younger children in response to public scrutiny and international pressure." In addition to reports of forced labour, HRW states that conditions in the field are abusive and harmful.
Drawing attention to real life situations through the medium of video games is the whole point of the company that created 'My Cotton Picking Life'.
It was designed by Game The News, a UK-based company that builds games based on current events. The idea came to Tomas Rawlings in October 2012, when he took part in a game jam (a get-together where developers create a video game within a compressed timeframe), Edge Online reports.
He launched Game The News soon after, with the intention of creating as many games as possible that respond to what's happening in the world in clever and interesting ways.
The company made headlines earlier this year when 'Endgame: Syria' was pulled from Apple's app store because it was judged to breach the restriction on apps that "solely target a specific race, culture, a real government or corporation or other entity."
Check out their site to see all their games, including 'Climate Defense', a tower defense game about climate change, and 'The Rhino Wars: Army Vs. Poachers', which deals with the conflict between the South African army and rhino poachers.
Game The News isn't the only group that's using video games to raise awareness. A Canadian documentary team is about to combine a video game with their new film in a bid to get people engaged in the issues the movie raises.
To promote the release of 'Trouble In The Peace', a doc about farmer Karl Mattson, who lives in Northern B.C.'s Peace River Valley, a companion video game called 'Pipe Trouble' is coming out in March, 2013.
The doc looks into Mattson's conflict with B.C.'s provincial government over natural gas, which occurs in the context of a series of pipeline bombings. You can read more about it right here.
'Pipe Trouble' is the video game that's coming out alongside the film. It offers a satirical look at real-world issues surrounding natural gas and the pipelines that deliver it.
According to the production team, 'Pipe Trouble' will offer a different twist on classic arcade games - players will try to make money from a natural gas pipeline, while also attempting to minimize impact on the environment and local farms.
If you're interested in playing, the game will launch as an online trial version starting in March, with a full version available for purchase on some tablets at the same time.
Check out the trailer for 'Trouble In The Peace' below. It's screening in Vancouver at the VanCity Theatre March 1-6, and at the Royal Cinema in Toronto on March 8, 9 and 10.