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Interview: Molleindustria On  Phone Story 's 'Objectionable' Message
Interview: Molleindustria On Phone Story's 'Objectionable' Message Exclusive
September 14, 2011 | By Leigh Alexander

September 14, 2011 | By Leigh Alexander
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    56 comments
More: Console/PC, Smartphone/Tablet, Indie, Serious, Exclusive, Design



[Gamasutra talks to Molleindustria about Phone Story, the hardware industry critique that's been pulled from the App Store -- and about the culture of complacency that surrounds mobile game development.]

The rise of the iPhone has revolutionized communication in the modern world, and the game development industry has been one of the largest beneficiaries of this paradigm shift. Thanks to Apple's touch screen and App Store, mobile game development was dredged from its cultural ghetto to a legitimate avenue for big studios and indies alike.

It arrived in the nick of time, too, after the rapid contraction of packaged goods and the recession of a few years ago forced so many developers to seek more agile, less expensive and lower-risk spaces within the industry. Since then, powerhouse studios have been built and careers have been rescued on the back of Apple's must-have device.

But until now, few have been willing to turn the lens on this boom and examine what mass-market gadget lust is costing us ethically. Though we've since heard of suicides at Foxconn, deplorable working conditions and hazards to the environment involved in the manufacture of the latest hot smartphones, game developers were mostly silent -- until now.

It seems natural that provocative serious games developer Molleindustria was the one to take the step. The studio, which has taken on forces like the Catholic church, McDonald's and big oil with games like Operation Pedopriest, McDonald's Video Game and Oiligarchy, never pulls its punches as it uses games to sharply deconstruct the social and economic constructs most people take for granted.

Its latest title, Phone Story, uses a series of minigames with voice-over narration to shed light on the human cost and high environmental impact of smartphone development. In one minigame, while the narrator explains that most electronic devices require the mining of coltan, a conflict mineral in Congo whose demand spurs war and child labor, the player must use the touch screen to guide armed soldiers to bark at exhausted child miners in order to meet the goal in time.

In another, the voice-over explains the suicides at electronics manufacturers in China, and the facile solution of "prevention nets" -- while the player must catch tumbling workers using a stretched trampoline.

Of course, Phone Story is more interesting for the fact that players must interact with these messages while holding one of the devices discussed. Imagine being served hamburgers on a tour of a slaughterhouse. And all of the developer proceeds -- 70 percent of total App Store revenues, as per usual -- will be pledged to organizations fighting corporate abuses, starting with Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehavior, which supports workers in abusive conditions internationally, including at Foxconn.

Or they would be, if Phone Story had been allowed to stay on the App Store. Apple yanked it just a few hours after the game was officially announced, citing four code violations: 15.2, which prohibits depictions of child abuse, and 16.1, which prohibits apps depicting "objectionable or crude" content. The other two, 21.1 and 21.2, pertain to Phone Story's charitable bent -- and they don't seem to quite apply, intended instead for games that allow their users to make donations within a game, rather than a pledge by the developer to donate revenues.

Molleindustria makes an iPhone game to criticize the iPhone platform, and that Apple's chosen to silence it is an interesting punctuation mark on the developer's statement.

Gamasutra reached out to Molleindustria's Paolo Pedercini about iPhone Story, who credits the game's idea to recent international affairs graduate Michael Pineschi, to whom he spoke through creative activism group YesLab. At the time, Pedercini already had some unusual ideas in the works for projects that could act as commentary on gadget fetishism.

"One of them was a multi-touchable virtual-pet vagina, monologuing about technological lust and willful submission to consumerism," he reflects. "Unfortunately, the flesh engine didn't work as I hoped so I went for a straightforward educational game."

But the intent was always to develop a game as commentary on the hardware industry. "Most of the adults in the Western world are somewhat aware that most of our objects are manufactured far away, in conditions that we would consider barbaric," Pedercini says.

"A lot of tech-aware people heard about the story of the Foxconn suicides or about the issue of electronic waste," he continues. "But with Phone Story, we wanted to connect all these aspects and present them in the larger frame of technological consumerism."

He specifically wanted to highlight the goal that "must-have" consumer electronics culture plays in perpetuating these high-impact cycles; one of the levels of Phone Story tasks the players with tossing brand-new boxed phones to swarming would-be buyers rushing a storefront. In his view, the marketing machine that makes people believe they absolutely need an upgraded hardware device on the day it comes out is what causes extremism in the supply chain.

"We don't want people to stop buying smartphones," he notes, "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."

Pedercini says it was essential to use the platform itself to stage a critique of that platform. "Almost like the device itself was speaking to the user," he suggests. "The idea was to make a sort of reminder that you can keep with you, like a way-less-permanent tattoo or a bumper sticker, something that you carry around and maybe show off as a conversation-starter."

But although Apple's immediate removal of Phone Story makes for an interesting conversation point, Pedercini says he never intended it to happen this way: "I'm very familiar with the App Store policy, and the game is designed to be compliant with it," he asserts.

"If you check the guidelines, Phone Story doesn't really violate any rule except for the generic 'excessively objectionable and crude content' and maybe the 'depiction of abuse of children'. Yes, there's dark humor and violence but it's cartoonish and stylized - way more mellow than a lot of other games on the App Store."

"What makes these depictions disturbing is the connection the player makes with the real-world situation," adds Pedercini. "Of course, the goal was to sneak an embarrassingly ugly gnome into Apple's walled garden, but not to provoke the rejection. If it was just a matter of provocation I would have gone way further... I'd be much happier if the game was actually available to everybody, and possibly generating discussions around the issues it clumsily addresses."

Editing the game to make it truthful without being objectionable will be some task: "a new version of Phone Story that depicts the violence and abuse of children involved in the electronic manufacturing supply chain in a non-crude and non-objectionable way... will be a difficult task," he notes wryly.

"This morning, a dry and polite Apple employee called me personally to talk about the specific violations of Phone Story," says Pedercini. "When I asked if I can submit a new version, there was a moment of silence and then he answered, 'Yes, if you can make it compliant to the guidelines.' But the truth is that there is no way to know what's 'excessive' and 'objectionable' in Cupertino."

Most alarming to Pedercini is how complacent so many developers have become to mobile development's culture. "Here's the problem: the unanimous reaction from developers community has been, 'Wow, it's incredible Phone Story made through Apple's review process,'" he says. "To me, this signals a full acceptance of a regime of censorship, the equivalent, for developers, of what journalists call the 'chilling effect.'"

"I'm sure that Apple doesn't spend that much time in policing its marketplace, because the developers are already censoring themselves." he continues. "Of course, Apple has the right; it is the acceptance of Apple view about the cultural status of the 'App.' For them, games and applications are not part of culture like books or music."

Adds Pedercini: "Try to imagine what kind of reaction iTunes would provoke if they banned all the songs with 'excessive objectionable' content."

[UPDATE: Phone Story is now available on the Android app store.]


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Comments


Christian McCrea
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Good on Molleindustria for stepping up to the plate; the point about the complete chilling effect of the App Store is very true. One can only expect people to trot up to the comment sections of stories like this to chime in with "well thats Apple's policy and if you don't like it, ya'll ken geeeet out."

Cheng Ling
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Complete pretentious douche pulls an obvious attention-seeker ploy, then spews out the proper invective ('evil corporations make us want stuff we don't need! censorship! rabble rabble!) to build himself up, ignoring the fact that none of it makes sense (nobody forces anyone to buy anything, a contract into which you voluntarily agree is not 'censorship'). He'll be a hero in no time.

Chinmay Zende
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Not siding with Molleindustria, but I find you comment about "no one forcing you to buy anything" rather amusing.

Agreed that the "evil corporations" don't hold people by their neck and threaten to kill them unless they buy their good, but they do spend millions and millions on advertising. Advertisements are, basically, a psychological play on the consumers minds. They are designed to make the consumer feel lacking unless that new gizmo, bag, car, house.. whatever, is owned by them personally.

No corporation just makes an item and leaves it to up to the consumer to decide if they want to buy it or not. Even if such an industry existed, it would be swallowed and spat out by the competition.

Lars Doucet
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Nobody's forcing YOU to buy anything, but slave labor and sweat-shop conditions DO force people to produce things. MolleIndustria is known for hyperbole, but the core of their message is accurate.

Maurício Gomes
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Not really either.



People there or have crap jobs, or work on the factories, that pay better and usually treat them better too.



It may be "slave" labor for your standards, but not for the people there.

Lars Doucet
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I was referring more to mining conflict minerals than to FoxConn, for the record.

Christian McCrea
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... and there we go.

Bart Stewart
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Well, what did you expect?



If you felt someone defamed you publicly, do you believe you're required to help promote those mischaracterizations? If not, why should Apple?



This notion of "complacency" is frankly bizarre:



> "Here's the problem: the unanimous reaction from developers community has been, 'Wow, it's incredible Phone Story made through Apple's review process,'" he says. "To me, this signals a full acceptance of a regime of censorship, the equivalent, for developers, of what journalists call the 'chilling effect.'"



Only someone fully immersed in the anti-capitalist echo chamber could be surprised or puzzled that any corporate entity would choose not to assist in assaults on its character.



I've never been a fan of Apple. They're good hardware designers, but their software and their attitude in general has always been a condescending "you'll do it our way or not at all; we know what's best for you." Frankly, there's a certain poetic justice in Apple getting a taste of the same snooty techno-moralism they've been dishing out for decades.



But it's still silly to believe Apple or anyone else must actively assist in promoting public attacks against them. Of course people are going to point that out -- it would only be strange if the weird "defending the principle of self-defense == complacency" claim went unquestioned.

Naomi Clark
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A newspaper, even an online one with unlimited space, would never print every letter anyone sends in. But most newspapers will print letters that are critical of their practices, the information they're presenting, or the way they're doing their job. They don't have to, but they do because it's part of journalistic ethics. There's a similar kind of ethical demand on Apple, even though they're not journalists, and even though we only have a vague sense of what the ethics will have to be. We're in the infancy of figuring out what it means for companies to be responsible in this space, and communities of developers & online entrepreneurs are going to have to take that up as a challenge. Dishearteningly, too many comments on this page seem to be saying "no rules, no responsibility... if it's not against the law, and doesn't break a contract someone signed, do whatever you want!" Pretty immature.



Part of the tradition of freedom of speech is that you ought defend yourself from speech you consider wrong or unfair with more speech, rather than by trying to suppress speech, communication and dialogue. And if someone tells lies about you and it damages you or your livelihood, you have legal recourse.



Obviously Apple isn't the government, so the First Amendment doesn't apply. Their overwhelming success (or dominance, some would say) in the mobile game & application market does bring with it some measure of ethical responsibility for that power. That ought to be part of a slightly newer tradition, the whole idea of "corporate responsibility," which we all have to rely on increasingly in a commercially-mediated information landscape.



If Apple really wanted to have the moral high ground (like they've tried to claim over and over in the past) they'd let critiques stand and respond with their own facts, ideas, and counter-claims -- just like newspapers do. Instead, they just say "no comment" and sweep their suppression of ideas under the carpet.



This has been a litmus test for Apple, and as far as I'm concerned they've failed. I'm just one person, but I'll vote with my dollars and time and go elsewhere. Maybe others will too.

Bart Stewart
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Naomi, I think a vendor whose product is "factual information about reality" has a qualitatively higher bar for tolerance of public disagreement with its internal production practices than a vendor of widgets.



That's not to say some level of corporate responsibility isn't appropriate for all corporations, just as we rightly expect that individuals take personal responsibility for their actions. To that extent, I think you make a good point, and I agree with you.



Where I'm not convinced is the implication that all companies have the same level of responsibility beyond the base acceptable level. Responsibility -- including tolerance of dissent -- ought to be commensurate with power, and not all institutions have the same amount of power.



A company that makes widgets that people can pretty easily do without is not as powerful as a company purporting to tell the truth about what happens in the world. The latter, I think, has a higher obligation to tolerate disagreement with its practices. (And government, with its ultimate power, is by far the corporate entity that must tolerate, protect, and even promote public review and criticism of its practices.)



Apple, for all its valuation, is not that powerful; they can't force anyone who doesn't buy or use their products to do anything. I think Fahrenheit 451 comparisons are excessive for missing this point.



It's on this basis that I endorse both the privilege of MolleIndustria to make and sell agenda-driven games (even when I disagree with that agenda), and Apple's privilege to choose not to sell games whose agenda is opposed to their own.



We might agree that Apple should allow anti-Apple games as a demonstration of tolerance for alternative views. But I hope we can also agree that no private entity has a "right" to force Apple to sell games of which it doesn't approve.



And I don't think acknowledging either of these positions is "complacency" of any kind.

Naomi Clark
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Bart - thanks for the thoughtful reply. I completely agree with you that the obligations and responsibilities of power are very different between the government, the "fourth estate" and an distributor of what are ostensibly just entertainment and useful software gadgets like Apple. I'd never suggest that the First Amendment is legally applicable here, for obvious reasons. Similarly, the news media has both special rights enshrined in law, and special responsibilities.



However, I don't think we can treat this as an entirely cut-and-dry scenario. The media landscape has changed so rapidly in our lifetimes and will continue to change; people get information and "truth" from innumerable sources, in part because the traditional news media aren't sufficient in many ways.



Websites that allow the dissemination of "personal news" and expression, used by individuals and organizations to convey meaningful messages, aren't news media either. But clearly we would be bothered if Facebook decided to censor all content supporting a mainstream political party, or anything about Islam, censored all mention of homosexual relationships, etc. If Apple were to declare that they're supporters of the Democratic Party, and no conservative apps were allowed, most of us would feel that something unethical was happening. These entities are not press or government, but they do control what have emerged as major channels of communication and expression. That's the power that comes with responsibility, in my opinion.



You could call these more extreme examples, and feel free to think of your own; what I mean is that our ethical compasses point at certain types of censorship being wrong, if not legally, then at least ethically. I wouldn't argue that any private or government entity should "force" Apple to sell any particular game. But I would hope that if Apple unconscionably eliminated all games that expressed what the new Apple CEO decided were "dissenting opinions" on religion, politics, etc, that there would be a backlash against Apple by consumers and developers. That's the only recourse and "right" we have to pressure corporations into responsibility in these matters!



Censoring criticisms of their own business practices is obviously not the same thing as say, removing all apps that make reference to a particular class of people, religion, sexuality, political affiliation, etc. That would be "beyond the pale." But there's clearly something that trips many people's "sketchiness" buttons about censoring criticism of controversial business practices too, and I don't think we should handwave away those ethical concerns; to do so would be to abandon the idea of "corporate responsibility," which although limited, at least doesn't leave consumers and developers entirely toothless in matters of decency.

kevin wright
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I think the days of anyone controlling content through cenorship are coming to a close. When you create an easy & publicly accessible forum for launching content, that is labeled entertainment (and this is) and it falls under the right to free speech (which it does- per the recent Supreme Court ruling) I can easily see a scenario where developers, or even consumers, will be able to launch (post) anything they want, and legally pursue whenever they are c-blocked.



And fair warning, this is gonna suck, because its going to get old super fast when you have to scrub through 5000 channels to find one decent game (sound familiar: "500 channels and nothing to watch"). Apples App store/iTunes already feels like this.



It'll be like blade runner, only more boring- you know, everone has a mobile umbrella-phone hat run by an electric parka that is charged by riding your bicycle in rainstorms, to run your mobile-umbrella-phone hat, powered by your electric parka, charged by riding your bicycle....

Evan Bell
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1st amendment protections only apply when it is the government that is attempting to censor speech.

Chinmay Zende
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Interesting comment there about developers censoring themselves. Truth of the matter is, can you blame them? If they continuously violate terms set by the console developers, which they agreed to when signing the deed of earning money using the said party's platform, and get banned from it to the point that they can not earn any returns?

Darcy Nelson
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I agree with the logic here. Seems like a catch-22: be compliant or risk putting heart and soul into a game that never reaches market. Other than trying to negotiate with the publisher outside of an individual basis, I don't see how the developer is going to win this one.

Jim Ziron
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Well, it seems the developers have nothing to complain about since they accepted the terms. There is always the option to reject them -- which begs the question of how good the App Store would have been without any apps. That might have gotten some attention in Cupertino, but Monday morning second-guessing sure won't. If they are indeed censoring themselves (which I do not doubt), then obviously the Kool-Aid sales are going great.

Bruno Patatas
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Based in their previous titles, Molleindustria games are done simply to provoke. I fail to see the point (or the fun?) of something like Operation Pedopriest... But continuing on the Phone Story subject... According to their ban page (http://phonestory.org/banned.html), they assume they are in violation of the following guidelines:



15.2 Apps that depict violence or abuse of children will be rejected



16.1 Apps that present excessively objectionable or crude content will be rejected



So, why the surprise for the app being banned?

Besides, what is the intention of a game like this? Your iPhone is produced in the same places as your games consoles. To create this game they had to have an iPhone and a Mac, so they are contributing to the thing they are fighting for. It reminds me those punks in the street fighting against the system and capitalism at the same time they are wearing their Levis jeans... Even the clothes you wear are probably created by people in the same conditions as the Foxconn employees. Things need to change, sure, but it's not a game like Phone Story that will raise awareness to that cause.



Now, regarding the 'chilling effect' of the app store... Have you ever developed for WiiWare, PSN or XBLA? Your game concept needs to be approved by the platform holder! That means we have a 'chilling effect' on those stores too?



The great thing about the games industry nowadays is that we have a lot of platforms to choose where to release your games. You don't like Apple App store? Release it on Android. You don't like consoles approval requirements? Release on PC.

E Zachary Knight
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"Molleindustria games are done simply to provoke."



Isn't that the point of editorials and political commentary? To provoke a response from the audience? Not only is that the first step in knowing your commentary is effective, if the viewer then make a change in behavior based on that provocation, you are even more successful.



It is one thing to point out that the coltan used in your iPhone is mined in the Congo under harsh conditions, it is quite another to interact with a simulation of those conditions. Same for the manufacturing conditions in Foxconn.



"Now, regarding the 'chilling effect' of the app store... Have you ever developed for WiiWare, PSN or XBLA?"



I don't see how that vindicates Apple in any way. Yes it is a walled garden, but not out of some actual need to be one, but out of choice.



One of the most frustrating things about this industry is that we rant and rave about games being banned in Australia because of the missing R18 rating and then we quietly sit back while games are forced to undergo massive editing to avoid an AO rating in the US. Not because of a law, but because we are collectively afraid of riling the anger of people who don't play games.



I don't know if you have ever read Fahrenheit 451, but one of the key points made in the book was that the ban on printed literature was not due to a government instituted ban, but a ban by the general public. People wanted to avoid provocation and offense so they forced books out of the US.



Similar things are happening in the games industry.

Bruno Patatas
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"It is one thing to point out that the cobalt used in your iPhone is mined in the Congo under harsh conditions, it is quite another to interact with a simulation of those conditions. Same for the manufacturing conditions in Foxconn."



Do you want a simulation of those conditions? Then go there, to the source. Experience what they are going through. Do some volunteering work in Congo. That could make some change and then you could say you experienced 'some' of those work conditions. I fail to understand how playing a game on my iPhone while i'm sited at Starbucks drinking my Mocha Frappé will make me experience those conditions.



"I don't see how that vindicates Apple in any way. Yes it is a walled garden, but not out of some actual need to be one, but out of choice."



And the point is? How can't the App Store be compared with XBLA or PSN?



Regarding the ratings issue, that's true for games and movies. It's part of the entertainment industry.



Yes i read Fahrenheit 451. I'm very familiar with dystopian and totalitarian fiction.



"Similar things are happening in the games industry." - And Steve Jobs is the Big Brother, right? A game was banned from the App Store because they were in violation of the guidelines that THEY accepted, and they say it's a 'chilling effect'? As someone said above: "attention-seeker ploy".

Eric McQuiggan
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Increasing empathy towards the situation is a noble goal regardless if it's through a simple phone application, or as you ridiculously asserted as the only way, going there and volunteering.

It's not about 'experiencing' it. It's about being more aware as to what is going on.

Attempting to limit desire by turning the mirror back towards the consumer, message being, your greed and desire is what allows this kind of stuff to take place.



As he said in the article, they didn't intend to get banned, and tried to be compliant. He didn't assume violation, those are what they were told they were violating.



Also, I guess it's easy to ignore people if you make vast assumptions about them. How do you know that all punks wear Levi's Jeans? How do you know that they weren't actually bought second hand or traded for? or are you making gross judgments to justify the position, 'consumers gunna consume'?

Bruno Patatas
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Increasing empathy towards the situation is a noble goal without any doubt. But, in my opinion, I don't believe this game would create any case of empathy towards the situation. Read me reply to Daniel below.



The punk analogy was used because punk is one of the most hypocrite cultural movements. If you go to the roots back to the times of the Sex Pistols, they were put together by an impresario that wanted to get some good money. Sex Pistols were nothing more and nothing less than a boys band. Check the documentary The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle.

Daniel Boy
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@Bruno:



I can't believe that you are the same person who wrote this a week before:



"Yes, I also never understood the argument that games are worse than other media to tell a story. Of course storytelling in videogames needs to be treated with it's own set of rules (mainly because the player is the main character), but it's a totally viable medium to create compelling storytelling."





I haven't played Phone Story but Oiligarchy is one of the most brilliant examples of games telling a story with an agenda. It's well produced and playing it you can feel the possibilities of persuasive games oozing out of the screen. Story, art and rules join to make a point. You don't have to share their agenda to be stunned by their work. But I should stop rambling and just ask you directly:



Do you think that games are capable of changing anyone's perspective on the world?

Rebecca Phoa
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Right. Fahrenheit 451 also pointed out the dangers of such fundamental self-censorship, not just books but everything.



Bradbury wrote in a coda to the book that Fahrenheit 451 itself went under heavy editing by Ballantine Books who were afraid 'contaminating the youth.' They actually had students saying a book that was about censorship and book burning in the future, being censored by its publisher was an irony. Until Lynn Del Rey stepped in and reset the entire process and the book was republished with all the 'damns and hells back in place.'

Bruno Patatas
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@Daniel



Yes, i'm the same guy who wrote that :)



Answering directly your question: Yes, i firmly believe they can!



I am not against doing a serious game about this subject. I think it should be done. A game that would raise awareness to the cause in a compelling way. For instance, a serious game that would show our privileged children how is the life of children in 3rd world countries. To be honest things are not going to change in this generation, but we can expect they will in future generations, and a game like that could help. Did you read Wired article on the Foxconn suicides case? http://www.wired.com/magazine/2011/02/ff_joelinchina/ It's a magnificent piece that goes to the core of the problem and try to find ways to improve the situation. How did Phone Story treated the subject? The suicide's level is like a twisted arkanoid version where you need to grab the jumpers and prevent them to falling into the ground!! For me this is not a serious take on the subject. For me it's making fun of the subject. I'm not saying that was their intention, but in me, as a player, that was the feeling I got.



In my opinion an image like this http://tinyurl.com/6a4n5o3 is of bad taste and mocking the serious suicides subject.

Lars Doucet
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Molleindustria err on the side of hyperbole for the sake of driving their point home.



As someone who appreciates nuance and subtlety, however, I must say I prefer deeper approaches. I would compare Molleindustria's work to political cartoons - they are exaggerated and simplified, bring attention to important issues, and fall short of being sophisticated and deep treatments of the subject.



That being said, simple can be incredibly powerful. I was a dyed-in-the-wool NeoCon until I played September 12th (http://www.newsgaming.com/games/index12.htm), and everything the "peacenicks" had been going on about suddenly clicked in my mind and converted me to the cause.

Jim Ziron
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While I agree with you about the questionable "fun" factor, Molleindustria has a right to market 'social consciousness' games if that's their desire -- just not on Apple's store, it would seem.



As to the point of having the choice of platforms you release apps/games for, I couldn't agree more!

Bruno Patatas
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@Lars I must say that in my opinion all this publicity regarding the banning of the game is creating more awareness to the cause than the game would ever probably do. I don't know if this was part of Molleindustria plans, but if it was, kudos to them! It worked :)



@Jim They have all the right to market their titles, nothing against that. What I think is a stretch too far is all this evil apple talk, and big brother, etc.. I see that they have already released the game on Android, which is good for them. It's only that when you select a platform to release your title, you need to comply with the platform rules. In my mind that's an easy thing to understand.

Jim Ziron
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Agreed :)

Eric McQuiggan
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@Bruno

It seems like people are talking about it, ITT, so it seems to be effective in raising awareness.



If your touchstone for Punk culture is the Sex Pistols, you should really read up on the last 30 years.

Eric McQuiggan
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@Bruno

As stated in this article, they felt that they were complying with the rules, the part where it stops being "an easy thing to understand" is when the platform holders have the ultimate authority over what the rules actually mean, it's open to interpretation, just not developers' interpretation.

Bruno Patatas
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@Eric The thing is that ultimate authority is what Apple ever did with every product they made. If you don't want to play by their rules, then don't. Release it on Android (as they did). Regarding the punk culture, Sex Pistols jointly with Ramones are the grandfathers, and the bands that kickstarted the movement. And yes, they were in it for the money.

Eric McQuiggan
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@Bruno, That's the part you are missing, they did play by Apple's rules! Then Apple decided that the rules meant something different, because they can. They weren't trying to run a swerve by Apple, they wanted this on the store.



Ugh, REGARDLESS of who you believe the progenitors of a movement are, there is still 30 years of history and other bands that were even contemporary to Sex Pistols and Ramones have a much stronger anti-consumerist bent.

Why do you think two of the more financially focused bands of the movement are some of the most well known?

You're chucking the baby out with the bath water.

Bruno Patatas
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@Eric You said the magic words: "because they can". I think any developer who is serious about developing for iOS will always need to have that in mind. It's not unusual Apple to demand developers to change assets, etc. If the developer don't want to be at Apple's will, then choose another platform. All that "chilling effect" talk is rubbish. If the game was still on sale at the App Store and making some money, would they say the same? "Hey, our game is at the App Store, a nest of censorship, an Orwellian place, so don't buy games there. Don't support the evil company. Oh, wait... but it's our game! Yes, go there and buy it!" - Regarding the punk subject, I have my opinion that is not going to change. Others tried and failed :)

Eric McQuiggan
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Well, that's kinda the point of being subversive. Using the medium you are railing against as a way to get your message out is pretty common.



It's like when NOFX released their album 'Pump Up the Valuum', releasing copies to Rock radio stations, hoping they would play their song "Dinosaurs will die", a song about how terrible rock radio has become, and how the music industry is changing around them, but I guess you wouldn't know about that because you made an arbitrary judgement, and broadly applied it to an entire culture. ;)

Bruno Patatas
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Discussing punk music on Gamasutra... That's cool hehe!!



Btw, "Dinosaurs will die" is a very bad song :)

Dan O'Reilly-Rowe
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Thank you apple, for helping me decide to jailbreak my phone.

Martain Chandler
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I thought ad agencies were "attention-seeker ploy" experts?

Richard Fine
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I think it's good that people like Molleindustria are exploring the serious/satirical games space in this way, but I also think it's good that Apple don't have to allow them to put the game out on Apple's own platform.

Jim Ziron
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Would you also prefer that your cable provider decides what you can watch?

Frank Lantz
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"Attention seeking" is not a valid complaint against a work of popular culture. It's an especially inappropriate complaint about a work that seeks to participate in a public debate on a contentious issue. Of course this app specifically courts controversy, part of the point of the game is to test the limits of Apple's tolerance of criticism, and make those limits publicly visible.

R Hawley
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If Apple didn't remove it from the store I wouldn't have heard about it. A well played strategy I say.

adam wolf
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Until this article I had no idea that it took the mining of conflict minerals. I have heard, though, that the suicide rate at foxconn is actually lower than the national average.



I agree that it's pointless the yell attention whore at something designed to bring attention to an issue and raise awareness.

E McNeill
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I get the feeling that a lot of people are missing the point. Molleindustria wasn't trying to get banned ("the game is designed to be compliant with [App Store policy]"), and this shouldn't be considered a simple publicity stunt. The fact that they did get banned reveals a few important facts:



- Apple is willing to ban even cartoonish "disturbing content", at least when it's critical of Apple.



- Apple doesn't consider games to be as valid an artistic medium as music or films, which they don't police in the same way.



The "chilling effect" claim is pretty well justified.

Jeffrey Crenshaw
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I'm in complete agreement with your points, but as I mentioned elsewhere, this is working out too perfectly and with too much momentum for me to fully accept that they did not expect to get banned. I think it's both; a simple publicity stunt designed for a cause they believe in. At the very least, I believe they anticipated getting banned and had a marketing plan in place to be able to react so quickly and turn it into such publicity (and then turn around and release the Android version so quickly when they are getting free headlines), even if they did not 100% expect it.

Lars Doucet
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My take:



Apple's policies are designed so it's almost impossible not to be in violation of them. This means that they can revoke your app for any reason while still pretending to have explicit policies.



Molleindustria likely did the best they could to stay within the guidelines, with the full knowledge they would get banned anyway.

E McNeill
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Jeffrey: I think this is just the internet's reaction when a story captures a truth particularly well, and they probably were going to release the two versions side-by-side no matter what. But I suppose we can't know.



Lars: Right on. Even looking at the terms that got this game banned: "depict violence or child abuse"... How many games on the App Store depict violence? And how many fart apps weren't considered "objectionable or crude" before this game was?

adam wolf
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Hey, let's not get crazy. We need those fart apps.

Naomi Clark
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It's probably worth remembering Apple's previous statements on this subject, as laid out in the App Store guidelines from a year ago:



"If you want to criticize a religion, write a book. If you want to describe sex, write a book or a song, or create a medical app. It can get complicated, but we have decided to not allow certain kinds of content in the App Store… We will reject Apps for any content or behavior that we believe is over the line. What line, you ask? Well, as a Supreme Court Justice once said, 'I'll know it when I see it'. And we think that you will also know it when you cross it."



Apple's pretty much put it right out there: they want their giant games marketplace to work on something similar to the Comics Code Authority, which finally disappeared for good from comic books this year. Because kids play games, because games are somehow more dangerous than other cultural form like books or music, you're not allowed to use them to express controversial or risque ideas. Go write a book, go compose a song! Screw you, game developers -- get back to work making fun, light, non-controversial entertainment, clowns!



What's really annoying is the number of game developers who are willing to just sit down complacently and accept this as our lot in life -- and accept that a company can just do whatever they want with what you produce creatively because they own the means of distribution. As if the letter of the law and contracts were all that mattered, and the be-all end-all of what's right and wrong. Apple has a moral responsibility here which they've failed, and they're doing games in general a huge disservice. It's not a great state of affairs, and won't be until we reach the next chapter in the evolution of the games market, or everyone walks away.

Bruno Patatas
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@Naomi Wow, you compared Apple to the Comics Code Authority?? The CCA was composed by several publishers/distributors. Apple is ONE company in control of ONE platform: their own. For you to have a CAA in games would have to be a consortium of Apple, Sony, Nintendo, plus several big publishers. And that is not what's happening. Do you think that Marvel or DC don't censor the stuff they release? Yes, they do, and the writers and artists need to comply with their rules. Rules, what a dirty word it seems...



You said basically that Apple treats developers like clowns and that they are doing a huge disservice to the games industry - That's why you have countless studios opening and betting on that platform....

Naomi Clark
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Comics were specially targeted for censorship for many of the same reasons that games are; neither is taken seriously as a meaningful form of expression, and just seen as something that's supposed to be fun (and even frivolous), kept innocent for kids' sake, etc. And that's damaging to games.



You're right that Apple's just one company and that it would be more disturbing if a consortium of companies all went in on this. I don't see that happening in today's world, but the emergence of de facto censorship standards where more and more distribution channels insist on following the lowest-common-denominator censorship policies could give us the same results. What if Android and social networks all followed suit? What if other emerging marketplaces felt like they had to conform to de facto standards? That kind of standardization of what's considered acceptable expression may not bother you because it's not as OVERT as the CCA or government censorship, but it's just as pernicious.



Look -- in the USA and most of the heavily-industrialized globally-capitalist world, we don't live in an age of government censorship anymore. We need to be worry about new problems: corporate censorship of media. It's been called out and widely recognized as a problem in the news media for years ("Manufacturing Consent" and any number of other books) and it's a problem for creative expression too.



I'm all for rules. I'm all for publishers, printing presses, music distributors, film houses and websites not allowing Neo-Nazis to spread lies and violent hate speech, for instance. I'm fine with segregating kid-friendly content and keeping it PG. But in order to have rules, you have to have an entity in charge that can apply them responsibly and transparently, and ideally engage in public dialogue. There's no law mandating that but there ought to be ethical standards in this and other industries that we support as a community of developers.



Game developers don't have the right kind of self-respect, and I think we EXPECT to be treated like clowns and relegated to non-serious, non-controversial entertainment. Game developers don't have higher expectations or ambitions, but we should. Otherwise we'll just keep on being clowns. Clowning is fine -- I have friends who are professional clowns -- but it sure as hell ain't everything. And of course countless studios are betting on the platform. They're in it for the money, not for the self-respect. But we ought to stand up, say something, and aim to get both.

Naomi Clark
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Totally different angle on the whole conversation:



Apple's developer guidelines explicitly allow "professional political satirists and humorists" to break some of their other guidelines.



"14.2 Professional political satirists and humorists are exempt from the ban on offensive or mean-spirited commentary"



They added this clause after the scandal over NewsToons, which gave iOS users a way to access the same kind of political cartoons as anyone reading major newspapers or browsing news or political cartooning sites online, but was initially censored by Apple because it contained "offensive" content.



This seems to me like a kind of grandfather clause to protect a form of expression -- the print-legacy, newspaper-derived, political cartoon, professionalized and formalized -- that society as a whole has already deemed should be protected. Apple's trying to make sure they get in line with conventional wisdom about ethics and freedom of expression, even though they technically could just ban all political cartooning as well.



The point was made above that Molleindustria's games are more aptly compared to political cartoons than almost anything else. They express a strong, one-sided opinion like many political cartoons; they're about real-world news and events, they're exaggerated in style and representation, they can be thought-provoking despite not being particularly deep or long experiences, and they're intended to both amuse and discomfit. They reach audiences in a manner and method that dry news stories don't, and they're both a form of entertainment and something more serious. We may snort in disgust at a cartoon we see in a newspaper, but we don't agree with censorship of political cartoonists, with the threats made against Danish cartoonists who wrote very offensive anti-Islam cartoons, etc. Political cartooning is clearly protected by freedom of speech, and Apple knows that.



Leaving aside the matter of whether Apple should censor material that's critical of its own business practices... Paolo's work wouldn't ever get categorized as a political cartoon because it's not a 2D image that looks like it could be in print; there's no "profession" of digital interactive political cartoonists; and conventional wisdom is that it's more "offensive, frivolous, and in bad taste" when a game transmits this kind of thing than when a newspaper does. That seems extremely short-sighted, and like an emerging form of political and personal expression isn't being given as fair a shot as already-established traditions. I'd hope for more from an innovation-driven media & technology company.

Bruno Patatas
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Taking the example of Naomi, going to share a different angle on the conversation from the app ban to the game point of view. In my opinion games can be fantastic learning tools and in some cases catalysts for change. I am not against raising awareness for the kind of issues that Phone Story depicts, but I am against how the game deals with those issues. The suicides level for me is not a serious take on the subject. For me it's making fun of the subject. I'm not saying that was their intention, but in me, as a player, that was the feeling I got.



I am going to show a couple of games that deal with the poverty problem in a well developed manner and not through an "easy shock" technique.



Ayiti: The Cost of Life



“What is it like to live in poverty, struggling every day to stay healthy, keep out of debt, and get educated? Find out now in this challenging role playing game created by the High School students in Global Kids with the game developers at Gamelab, in which you take responsibility for a family of five in rural Haiti.” From UNICEF with Microsoft support.

http://costoflife.ning.com/



Poverty Is Not a Game (PING)



PING is an online game made for secondary schools, forming a starting point to discuss the subject ‘poverty’ and what it means to be poor. Ping is aimed at the students of the secondary and third degree. The students become the main characters in the game. They can choose between Jim or Sofia, who, due to certain circumstances, end up on the street and need to find their own path.

http://www.povertyisnotagame.com/?lang=en



Just my 2cents...

Naomi Clark
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I was one of the designers at Gamelab when Ayiti was being developed and was lucky enough to be part of some of the process and design thinking around that game... so I'm glad to hear you think it's a good example!



I honestly believe we need many approaches and forms of expression to communicate about these issues -- "editorial cartoons" like Molleindustria's as well as more thoughtful, nuanced, and systemic portrayals of issues. We need investigative reporting like the piece on Foxconn in Wired, we need performance art like Mike Daisey's "The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs," which is about the same subject in a really different way, and we need stuff like this: cartoons showing people jumping off of buildings and splatting on the ground.



http://bit.ly/cqJ1uA



They're from Chinese newspapers in response to the tragic suicides at Foxconn.

Bruno Patatas
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Really? That's so cool! Yes, for me Ayiti is a very good example.



I'm totally with you that we need to communicate about these issues through different approaches. My problem with all this Phone Story situation is that it all feels... weird. It looks nothing more than a marketing plan. It's my conviction that Molleindustria was expecting to be banned from the App Store and they had everything in place to leverage the Android version by going publicly attack Apple. In the end, it seems that the spotlight is in the fact of the game being pulled from the app store and not on the importance of the subjects depicted.



Check the articles titles on this matter at Gamesindustry biz and Edge Online:



Phone Story dev criticises App Store "regime of censorship"



Apple pulls "objectionable" Phone Story



The big news is that Apple banned a game!

Naomi Clark
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Paolo has said a couple times that he tried to make the game compliant with Apple's policy -- Giant Bomb quoted him as saying "I'm very familiar with the app store policy and the game is designed to be compliant with it. If the project was just about being censored we could have gone further." You can accuse him of being disingenuous if you want, or that he could have known Apple would ban a game criticizing its own practices -- but I don't think that's a given, especially since it's not mentioned in the app policy, and the game doesn't directly mention Apple.



I can't really fault him for participating in all the media buzz either; he's also taking the opportunity in many cases to talk about the game's message, and if you look on some mainstream gaming sites (Kotaku comes to mind) most of the conversation is gamers discussing the ethics of iPhones and global capitalist production. A yanked app + now available on Android + lots of buzz about censorship is certainly preferable, even for the raw cause of the workers being abused, to the app being yanked and nothing being said about it, iOS users can't get it, etc.



If you've ever participated in a media campaign for a social justice cause, it's not drastically different than for-profit efforts to get the word out. It IS a marketing campaign of sorts. The real "bottom of the barrel" controversy-generating approach of non-profit marketing tends to be defined by PETA, which always goes as low as possible: using naked women and Nazi references in Times Square, for instance. So ending up with an app being banned feels pretty mild to me.



Plus, as Frank Lantz says above, "Attention seeking" is not a valid complaint against a work of popular culture. It's an especially inappropriate complaint about a work that seeks to participate in a public debate on a contentious issue." I couldn't agree more. The whole point is to draw attention, and the subject of the app IS controversy -- the controversial labor practices at hand. Part of the labor + environmental controversy is the cover-up, silence and lack of consumer knowledge that most corporations involved would prefer to continue. So the app being censored is very much an extension of that same controversy.

Bruno Patatas
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The problem with this game is that it's presented in a demagogic way that criminalizes consumers. It's like if anyone who buys a smartphone should be ashamed of themselves. Not buying iPhones will not change things at Foxconn. Apple is just one of many customers. Do you want to take them down? Then stop buying anything from Apple, Acer, Amazon, Asus, ASRock, Intel, Cisco, HP, Dell, Nintendo, Nokia, Microsoft, MSI, Sony Ericsson, etc, etc.



Regarding the colton mining: http://okongo.org/please_save_my_people.html Same thing - Lot's of different companies using it on their products.



And regarding the suicide rate at Foxconn... It's sad but just take a look at this, something happening in USA and not a 3rd world country: The suicide rate at Cornell University: http://collegecandy.com/2010/03/26/student-suicide-rates-rise-at-
cornell-why/



And people saying in other forums that the Foxconn management is inhuman because of the suicide-prevention netting not being a decent way to deal with the matter? Once again, the example of Cornell University:



"Of the approximately $575,000 the University has spent so far in response to last spring's student suicides, $350,000 -- or about 60 percent -- has gone towards the construction of "means restriction" barriers for seven bridges on and around campus, according to officials. "



Plus, Cornell even placed fencing on campus bridges.



Suicide and child labor are very serious matters and I am all to have them subject to serious discussion. The case around this game is that now what matters is the poor developer that was banned by evil Apple.


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