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Phone Story – Apple bans controversial game from App Store


Paolo Pedercini, a local game designer and professor at Carnegie Mellon University, recently released a new game called Phone Story. It features NES-style graphics, mini games, slave labor, and suicide…wait, what?! That’s right, your eyes did not deceive you:

Phone Story is a game for smartphone devices that attempts to provoke a critical reflection on its own technological platform. Under the shiny surface of our electronic gadgets, behind its polished interface, hides the product of a troubling supply chain that stretches across the globe. Phone Story represents this process with four educational games that make the player symbolically complicit in coltan extraction in Congo, outsourced labor in China, e-waste in Pakistan and gadget consumerism in the West.

Keep Phone Story on your device as a reminder of your impact. All of the revenues raised go directly to workers’ organizations and other non-profits that are working to stop the horrors represented in the game. (www.phonestory.org)

The game compels us to acknowledge the unsightly origins of our consumerism rather than simply accepting the completed piece of machinery at face value. Phone Story critiques the way in which companies such as Apple, Nintendo, Sony, and others gloss over the ugly origins of the raw materials that power their devices, so it may come as no surprise that Apple removed the game from its App Store. Apple’s censorship of the Phone Story app has again brought issues of intellectual freedom to the fore. In this case, why do apps get policed so much more harshly than music or books? Is it because it’s a newer medium and Apple can get away with it (the censorship of books and music would cause a much larger stir)? Or simply because this game is critical of the industry Apple lords over?

But Paolo Pedercini isn’t simply throwing stones–PhoneStory.org doesn’t just offer the game for download, it also features an overview of the controversial topics surrounding the creation of our smart phones, links for more info on those topics, and even more links addressing what can be done to alter these harmful practices. From information on slave-like warlord-run coltan mining, to the terrible work conditions and suicides in China’s factories, tech obsolescence (the idea that we need to keep updating our technology because new gadgets are available), and, the product of obsolescence, eWaste.

The amount of money spent on advertising and the sheer ubiquity of these gadgets help to hide the troubling past, the exploitation, and the creation of desire which makes these gadgets possible. Many consumer electronics could be said to have been “designed for the dump” – in that they are designed from the start to only be used for a short span of time before being tossed into the trash as you buy a new model. (www.phonestory.org)

Smart phones are great, but we shouldn’t ignore the origins of our favorite gadgets. Go ahead and explore Phone Story, learn more about where your phone comes from, and, if you’re so inclined, get involved in creating positive change.

– Corey, Digital Learning Librarian

One Response

  1. […] few months ago, Corey blogged about an iphone app game that details the beginnings of an iphone, complete with “NES-style graphics, mini games, […]

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