Download "My Cotton Picking Life," a new computer game
set in the cotton fields of Uzbekistan, and your reactions might go like this:
After a couple of minutes, "Hey, I'm collecting a lot of cotton, at this rate I could finish pretty fast!"
After a couple more minutes, "Uh, this is kind of tedious. How much cotton do I have to pick again?"
And finally: "You mean I've really got to pick 50 kilograms of cotton to finish this game? That'll take all day!"
If that makes you bored and frustrated, it is exactly what the game’s makers intended.
"It's realistic. It will take you about eight hours to get your daily quota, which is what it takes a cotton picker in Uzbekistan,” says Tomas Rawlings, from U.K.-based GameTheNews
, the company that developed the game. “So, that bit is completely accurate. That is the amount of cotton they are expected to pick and the amount of time it takes you per action is realistic."
He says the game is meant to be entertaining but it also has a message: You can quit playing whenever you want, but a child laborer in Uzbekistan cannot.
It's not easy to imagine how children feel when they are released from school by authorities every harvest season in the cotton-growing areas of Uzbekistan. The first moments of the first year might even feel like a novel break from lessons.
But picking cotton alongside the adults for up to 10 hours a day, seven days a week, for weeks on end, year after year, loses its novelty immediately.
According to the U.K.-based Cotton Campaign
, which seeks to raise international awareness of child labor in Uzbekistan, children who do not fulfill their duties are threatened with expulsion from school and sometimes physically abused. Parents who do not send children as young as 10-years old to the cotton harvest risk losing state social and welfare benefits.
It was information like this -- as well reports that compulsory work in agriculture requires many Uzbek schoolchildren to miss as many as three to four months of study each year -- that inspired My Cotton Picking Life.
Rawlings claims that he doesn't expect the game to be much more popular than cotton picking itself. But he believes there is a market for games that are inspired by the news and help make other people's lives more real to audiences at home.
"It's a very unusual game to create, in that we actually deliberately made a very boring game,” he says. “Normally when you create games you try to make [them] as fun as possible. But because we are talking about a serious topic, we wanted to use the game to make a point."
Rawlings says that the other games that GameTheNews has created -- including one about the conflict in Syria -- have been welcomed by gamers and even been used in classrooms as teaching tools.
My Cotton Picking Life, precisely because it is so true-to-life, could enjoy similar success.