Who Wants to Be a Cotton Millionaire?

Don’t we all!

This game from the BBC follows an ambitious business man seeking to make millions by getting into the cotton game in the late 18th century. Although “spinning yarn from raw cotton had been mechanized and brought into water-powered factories…weaving the yarn into cloth remained a ‘domestic’ industry.” Our business man wants to get in on the ground level and start bringing cloth making into the factory. Throughout the game, you help Mr. Business man making decisions on how to establish and operate his factory. The four things you need to help him decide are:

-Where to locate
-Who to employ
-What power to use
-What future investment to make

My first time through did not go very well. The first decision was whether to stay close to home and pursue business in Cumbria, or move closer to the ports in Lancashire. They seemed to have similar advantages, so I thought we should stay close to home. This was the wrong choice, and I lost two bags of money.

The next choice was who to chose for the workforce. Given my knowledge of child labor traveling effortlessly into the 20th century, I figured women and children were the best option.

Next, I was tasked to choose which type of power to pursue in the factory. The options are homeworkers, water, or steam. I figured since everyone else is having a good time with water power, it would be the best option. Again, I was wrong, as all of the good spots on the river were taken and steam really is the wave of the future.

The final choice was whether to invest in better machinery or better working conditions. Since this biz is all about profits, I decided to invest in new machinery. People won’t start asking for decent working conditions for another couple hundred years, so why invest in it? Unfortunately, I was not poised to make this decision thanks to a dreadful lack of savings based on my previous bad decisions.

Alas, I’ve gone bankrupt and ended up in debtor’s prison. There’s no turning things around either, as this is apparently the end of the game. However, with new found knowledge of what needs to be done to become a cotton millionaire, I tried again.

First, I chose Lancashire to be closer to Manchester and other busy ports.

My wealth increased by one money stack.

Then, I once again chose women and children to employ because they are cheap and flexible. To power the mill, I chose fabulous new steam power.

I chose to invest in better machinery again, as better working conditions don’t matter right now. Thankfully, all of my decisions this time around got the factory ready for cotton “boom time”.

After being congratulated on a job well done, we are given a moral dilemma to ponder. “How long will you be able to leave the people filthy whilst you grow fat?” We are also offered an exciting opportunity to learn more about the challenges of industrialization by playing “Muck and Brass”.

Overall, this game is very simple and not particularly informational. There are truly four things you need to do and you either end up in debtors’ prison or are made to feel guilty for doing well. Also, the correct choices are given to you after you mess a step up, so there’s no reason to play this more than twice. I’m not sure what age group this would be good for, but I imagine an elementary social studies class could get some use out of it. I’m curious to see what people think would be the best use for this, or how it could possibly be made more in depth.

Thanks for reading! I hope everyone is happy and healthy!

7 Replies to “Who Wants to Be a Cotton Millionaire?”

  1. Hi Maddie, thank you for this great post! It was interesting to read this and play this game after completing the Mission US: City of Immigrants game. As you point out in your post the game is not as educational as Mission US and the virtual landscape is minuscule compared to the one created by WNET. While it explains that women and children were a cheaper source of labor during this period it fails to address the implications of this decision. It also fails to address the social and political discourse of the period and instead instructs students to play an entirely different game. I think the creators of this game should integrate the same modernization techniques as WNET to ensure that students can obtain an enriching educational experience.

  2. Great to get this play by play walk through of the game and your discussion and comments on it! As you noted, there isn’t a lot of depth in this particular game, and you end up moving through a rather small set of decisions ultimately. I think it’s interesting to read this game against something like the Jamestown Adventure game. In both cases they are relatively simple interactives, but the Jamestown one brings in some very minimal additions, like the primary source document of the charter, and the mechanics about relating how your choices played out different than the Jamestown settlers.

    Now that folks have had the chance to read across a few of these different games and readings I’m curious for what kinds of comparisons and thoughts they are drawing out for everyone. What connections do other folks see between these things now that we’ve looked across them all?

  3. Hey Maddie, I love the way you narrate playing this game. Its a very simple concept but despite its simplicity I think it can be pretty useful in a classroom of elementary school it illustrates the very candidly precarious nature of making a profit during the Industrial period. It also introduces an interesting question about labor laws, both now and in the period. Teachers can use the game as a jumping-off point in discussing why child labor laws were developed and discuss the origins of the current gender wage gap. Its a simple game but it still has some uses and looks a little fun.

  4. Madi! Thanks for the informative post!! I also agree with what everyone else is saying about it not being particularly informative compared to something like Mission US. Sometimes simplicity is beneficial but in this case it makes me wonder if it’s tooooo simple. I think by only having four decisions to make oversimplifies capitalism and really just how life works in general. This might be problematic to use for children because it could instill ideas in their minds that these types of choices are simple and it only takes four simple, 2 answer choice questions to become a millionaire.

  5. Thanks for walking us through the game! I agree it definitely seems very simple and not very informative. From the information in the screenshots you gave us, it definitely looks like the history was really only a small part of it. I suppose there’s some info in there that could inspire someone to look up more about this topic but given that, as you said, it seem to be more geared towards elementary school kids I don’t really see that happening. I’m also now questioning the implications of having elementary school students play a game that after winning says, “but the people and landscape are changing fast and not all for a better” in seemingly describing workers demanding fair wages and safe working conditions and not wanting to be exploited.

  6. Thanks so much for walking us through this game. I feel like I was playing along! I would echo what you and others said about this game not having a lot of depth. This seems like something I would choose for a child as perhaps an innocuous past time and not really as an educational tool. One thing that I think a lot of these video games don’t do is teach disciplinary thinking and practice in addition to content. That being said, I think a game like this might be a kind-of-fun past time or a complementary tool at the end of a unit or for review (though I don’t think I can fully get behind the ethics of having students pretend to be a cotton magnate especially given the reliance on slavery for the cotton. Also, I always tell my students that I am not fun and I don’t really like games!). Anyway, thanks again for the interesting post!

  7. Maddie,
    Your post was very engaging to read through. Thanks for a great introduction to the game!

    After experimenting with some of the other games and reading through others’ posts, I wonder whether the linearity/non-linearity of historically-minded games has any implications for interpretation? Do users find themselves more engaged when they are given seemingly unlimited choices, or do they prefer having a course semi-demarcated for them?

    Your post fits really nicely into conversations about exhibit curation, digital design, etc. Thanks again!

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