Who Wants to be a Cotton Millionaire?

Cotton Millionaire is not as uncomfortable a game to play as its name may lead you to believe. The basis is that you are a consultant to an 18th century cotton entrepreneur in England. You are supposed to make decisions based on historical context and hope that your guy makes it in the cotton world. Your success is measured in little stacks of money. The game has its pros and cons as a teaching tool. First of all, it covers a broad timeline (100 years) and only covers broad trends as opposed to major historical events. This does allow it to focus primarily on the industrial revolution, which is what I assume it is used for. The audience of this game, featured on the BBC web site, seems to be children learning about the mechanization of England in the 18th century. Also SPOILER ALERT (I tell you how to win).

The introduction explains a bit about the industrial trending. At this point in time, cotton is already being spun in water-powered plants. Weaving yarn into cloth still took place on handlooms. The entrepreneur you are advising wants to start a new business that focuses on weaving cotton into cloth. He may also soon realize that he would the assistance of professionals from sites like winrightlaw.com.

The decisions you must make are where to locate, who to employ, what power to use, and what future investments to make.

Where to locate:

Cumbria or Lancashire?

This is the only decision that gives background information before you make the choice. When you click on the map, you are given a blurb on each location:

Cumbria is set up near Kendal where the budding businessman lives. The area has fast-flowing streams and the local workforce has skills in textiles.

Lancashire is set up in south Lancashire near Manchester. The area has fast-flowing streams, coalmines and a skilled workforce but it means relocating.

I originally went with Cambria, because I felt that knowing the local work force and economic atmosphere would help in the long run. Also, I hate moving. Alas, this was not the right choice. Even if you make all the better decisions from there on out, you will still end up in debtors prison because you won’t have enough money by the time you get to future investments to make any. What I learned from this is that you didn’t have a shot at success unless you moved to the big city.

Who to employ:

Next your businessman must choose his workers. He has the choice between men or women and children.

This choice demonstrates the lack of political standards and the discrepancy in women’s pay. I think that it would be beneficial to include how this might affect your businessman in the long run by giving an idea of when it would become unacceptable to hire children.

What power to use:

Next your businessman wants to increase production. He must chose from waterpower, homeworkers, or steam.

This choice educates on the technology changes happening at the time. If you go down the homeworkers root, it tells you that you are about 20 years behind on the times. The waterpower is ok, but people investing in steam will eventually replace you. With steam, you come out even because it is expensive to invest, but are then rewarded for your forward thinking. This is where the timeline issue comes in. At different points in the century, waterpower would have been a more sound investment considering the newness of the steam power technology.

What future investment to make:

Your final decision is to help your businessman continue to invest in his business in order to improve efficiency. He can spend his money on better machinery or on improving working conditions.

As far as I could tell, this is the only point in the game when the same option will turn out differently based on the decisions you made earlier in the game. In one case, I had located in Lancashire, employed women and children and invested in steam power. Because I had the money to keep the machinery up to date, I flourished. Another round, I had invested in waterpower instead of steam. While new machinery was still the better thing to invest in, I was still not as successful as I would have been in my investment had I had steam powered technology. There is only one track that will get you to absolute success. If you don’t end up in debtors’ prison, you could also be undercut by other businesses who did hire the right people or invest in the better technology.

There are obvious limitations to the design of the game. There are only four decisions that you make over the course of the plot. I can see how the game would engage children learning about the industrial revolution, but I would imagine that it would have to be heavily supplemented with other teaching resources. I didn’t learn that much from playing the game, but it did get me to spend more time and attention than I would have given it had the same amount of information been in a reading. There is only one track to success, and you aren’t given an explanation of how a different choice would have been more beneficial to your business. Fortunately, the game is very quick so it is easy to play multiple times to find the best scenario.

One Reply to “Who Wants to be a Cotton Millionaire?”

  1. I played Cotton Millionaire in the context of my own digital history project. I am designing a game with a similar structure to discuss the history of slavery and abolition in Rhode Island. As a result, I found this game very helpful in gaining ideas of what I should and should not do.

    One issue that I had was I felt that, as Madeline stated, there was very little historical context for each decision. I think that it would be a more effective teaching tool if there was some sort of introduction to each decision that gives the player some insight into what the better choice might be. I felt that playing as someone who has little knowledge of that period would be difficult to make any sort of decision. It is clearly trying to be a strategic game, but I think it fell short on giving enough information for that tactic.

    The other addition that I think would improve this game would be a conclusion. It ends a little abruptly after the last question. I think that some explanation of how the player reached that conclusion would make it a more effective tool. However, I think that the lack of information about how the decisions affect the outcome during the game encourage playing it multiple times in order to get a better idea of the environment during that time period.

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