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Proven countless times over the past several years alone, video games are a form of entertainment uniquely suited to communicating serious subjects in an interactive fashion — far more effectively than reading a book or watching a documentary. Unfortunately Apple wants nothing to do with that sort of communication, so UK developer Littleloud's Sweatshop HD had to be removed from the app store.
Anyone with any level of understanding that's had the opportunity to play Sweatshop HD (you can still play the free Flash version here) knows the defense-style game isn't about glorifying the practice of hiring underage workers to toil away in unsafe conditions to create designer clothes for wealthy foreigners. Instead it's an exploration of the pressure put on people in all aspects of the sweatshop business model. It's about raising awareness, and communicating the sick feeling one gets when seemingly the only way to win is to subject workers to dangerous conditions.
The game showed up on iOS in late November of 2012. It was pulled last month. Speaking to Pocket Gamer, Littleloud's head of games Simon Parkin said that "Apple removed Sweatshop from the App Store last month stating that it was uncomfortable selling a game based around the theme of running a sweatshop."
Littleloud attempted to clarify the game's intent with a disclaimer, calling it "a sympathetic examination of the pressures that all participants in the sweatshop system endure." Unfortunately the changes were not enough to see the game returned to the App Store.
While Apple's guidelines have led to many games being rejected for downright silly reasons (Japanese enemies in a World War II game? No way.) Others, like Owlchemy Labs' Smuggle Truck, sought to take on serious subjects from a perspective that advocacy groups found irreverent and Apple ultimately found too controversial, much like it has with Sweatshop HD. It's highly unlikely we'll see Littleloud replace its characters with stuffed animals, as Owlchemy did to transform its banned game into Snuggle Truck.
Given the size of its market, it's quite unfortunate that Apple has decided to take this sort of hardline stance on game approvals. The platform's reach could prove invaluable in advancing awareness and understanding of serious topics, but with each banned game, Apple's position becomes clearer — iOS is not a place for serious games, and other developers are beginning to get the message.
Introversion Software's Prison Architect is currently available for play through Steam's new Early Access program for PC — a platform that remains a bastion for serious indie games.
At least for now.