Thursday, 21 March 2013

Apple and Sweatshop

Apple's at it again! Censorship! And the whole internet goes down in a blaze of fury over an awareness-raising sweatshop simulator that we didn't want until Apple decided we couldn't have it anymore. At least, not from them. It's still available in browser and whatever other platform the developers decide to try in future, but that's not relevant to the crux of the wrongteous indignation.

Apple is of course a business and the app store is a store and the former can stock what it wants in the latter, according to whatever policies it deems appropriate. The removal of a product from a shop isn't 'censorship' in anything but the most entitled of definitions.

What it is, though, is inconsistent. One of the biggest companies on earth manages to act like a flawed human being when it comes to interpreting and enforcing its polices, which leads to hilarious situations like today's.

Sweatshop is a 'serious' game, created to draw attention to the complexities of ethical clothing manufacture. In this Pocketgamer article the developer Littleloud is quoted as saying

"Littleloud amended the app to clarify that Sweatshop is a work of fiction and was created with the fact-checking input of charity Labor Behind the Label, and to emphasise that the game doesn't force players to play the game in one way or another. Rather, Sweatshop is a sympathetic examination of the pressures that all participants in the sweatshop system endure."

On the one hand that sounds like an interesting experiment into personal ethics, and on the other it sounds like players are rewarded for putting profit before people and that's probably as sophisticated as most self-analysis will get. It is after all only a simulation and bears no relationship to how we'd actually act if we suddenly found ourselves running a shoe factory in the developing world. PocketGamer said
"If you can stomach the paralysing guilt of mistreating your virtual workers, you'll bring in cash and ace the level." 
What guilt? It's a game. One of the first things I did when I got The Sims was build a one-square prison and brick a Sim into it to see them piss themselves and die. It was hilarious.

Of course, Apple has excellent reasons for removing the game, stating its themes of simulated child labour and flagrant flouting of virtual health and safety laws are not acceptable for its real-life customers. Guardians of morality, custodians of welfare. If enough people protest they'll bring it back, because offence is in the eye of the purse-holder.

I, meanwhile, can still use my iPad to shoot the face off soldiers, run over pedestrians, fire a machine gun at rare sealife creatures, steal cars, destroy porcine military with suicidal avian bombs, and graphically smash in my female neighbour's skull with a hammer just because she didn't stay dead. All Apple approved.