Video: Roblox and Digital Child Labor

One of the projects I was on, when I worked at TERC, was called Building Systems from Scratch. From my perspective, it was an experiment in teaching climate science indirectly.  Kids in the participating schools built simple games using MIT’s Scratch program, all relating to climate change and climate action. Part of the idea was to use something fun and rewarding – learning how to build a simple game – to make it easier to learn about climate science. It turns out that Roblox Corporation looked at the way children like playing and building video games, and saw an opportunity to profit off of child labor. .

I honestly know next to nothing about Roblox. Hbomberguy taught me the history of the “oof” noise in it, and that it was yet another exploitative capitalist corporation, but I didn’t realize just how bad it really was.

The video game industry has come under the spotlight for bad working conditions a number of times in recent years. Companies over-rely on contractors and forced overtime, repeatedly pushing their workers to the breaking point, and justifying all of it because people who go into the industry tend to like developing video games. The work is rewarding, and therefor it’s OK to underpay and over-work people. I think it’s reasonable to pay more for unpleasant work, but that’s never a justification to underpay for the pleasant stuff. Work is work, and people have a right to the products of their labor.

I’ve believed for a while now that capitalists view happiness in workers as a version of the notion of “time theft”. If a worker isn’t grinding every second that they’re being paid for, that means that they’re “stealing” from the company. Likewise, if workers are feeling happy and fulfilled, that’s proof that they could be more exploited. They could be generating more profit for the company, and they’re not, which is just like stealing from the company!

This reasoning seems to be why Roblox has felt justified in  their use of child labor and scrip to become a multi-billion dollar corporation. More Perfect Union has more:

This honestly reminds me a lot of the college football scam, where corporations and colleges make millions off of “student athletes” without paying them, all because it’s supposedly just a fun school activity, and if they’re very lucky, they’ll have a chance to go pro and make some actual money before their bodies give out. Roblox isn’t as brutal as football, but the dynamic seems much the same. The workers aren’t taken seriously, and so their labor doesn’t “count”, even as it’s making a small number of evil adults obscenely wealthy. It’s fucked up to have to say it, but the video is right: Children need labor protections.


  1. klatu says

    Okay, but why does it matter if some unrelated asshole is making money off your playing a game? Does everything have to be labor? What child gives a shit about the profitability of playing a video-game?

    I mean, yeah, this is scummy. No question. But no child is actually harmed by not getting rich this way. Right? And if a game is not fun anymore, then stop playing it. Do something else. Pet a dog. Touch grass.

    I think it’s a bit funny how that extremely british guy keeps over-enunciating the sheer terror of the situation, anyway.

    The real terror here is that children have been suckered into thinking that play should be profitable.

    That’s my stream of consciousness. You’re welcome/I’m sorry.

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