Apple has pulled Phone Story, a game which attempts to satirize the human cost of phone production, from the App Store.
Although many technology consumers have a basic understanding of the environmental and human costs incurred in the production of a wallet-friendly smartphone, we’re not often asked to consider what these “costs” mean for workers on the ground. To this end, developer Molleindustria released Phone Story, a mobile game which attempted to satirize much of the scandal surrounding Apple’s iPhone production practices. The game was quickly pulled from the App Store, with Apple citing “objectionable” content and depictions of child abuse as reasons for its removal.
Phone Story attempted to satirize Apple’s production scandals by offering the consumer the chance to play a series of narrated mini-games, each aimed at illustrating a particular problem. One level involved ensuring that armed security men kept a group of children mining coltan in Africa (one of the most prized rare earth elements (REEs), coltan is mined in large quantities in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Third-party mining operations in the DRC have contributed directly to a war which has become the deadliest human conflict since World War 2). Another level involved catching employees in a trampoline net as they fall from a tall building, a direct poke at the high rate of employee suicide at Foxconn, an Apple partner.
Speaking to Gamasutra, Molleindustria’s Paolo Pedercini explained that “a lot of tech-aware people heard about the story of the Foxconn suicides or about the issue of electronic waste. But with Phone Story, we wanted to connect all these aspects and present them in the larger frame of technological consumerism.”
“We don’t want people to stop buying smartphones,” continued Pedercini, “but maybe we can make a little contribution in terms of shifting the perception of technological lust from cool to not-that-cool. This happened before with fur coats, diamonds, cigarettes and SUVs — I can’t see why it can’t happen with iPads.” He also stressed what Apple’s ban of the game meant for the games industry specifically, asking us to question “what kind of reaction iTunes would provoke if they banned all the songs with “excessive objectionable” content.”
Molleindustria is no stranger to controversy. Its previous politicized titles have included Oiligarchy and Operation Pedopriest, both of which attracted the levels of criticism you’d expect for games with subject matter such as theirs (the latter featured simulated child rape). Molleindustria browser game Faith Fighters had to be removed after offending the Organisation of the Islamic Conference.
Phone Story was after something clever – the chance to be among the first to ask people to consider Apple’s supply side operations through the medium of their products. Sadly (or perhaps not so, depending on how you feel about it) Phone Story for iPhone seems to be dead for good. However, it may still be able to find a home on the Android market; Apple’s iPhone may be the most popular form of mineral-hungry smartphone, but it is by no means the only one.