Who Made Your Phone? Compassion and the Voice of the Oppressed in Phone Story and Burn the Boards

Abstract

‘Burn the Boards’ (Causa Creations, 2015) portrays the life of an Indian worker who recycles electronic waste in a precarious environment. ‘Phone Story’ (Molleindustria, 2011) simulates the journey and process of production and consumption of mobile phones, from Congo and China to Pakistan. Whereas ‘Phone Story’ is described as ‘an educational game’ that addresses the player directly as a consumer, ‘Burn the Boards’ is a resource management puzzle that creates compassion through role playing. These games bring to the fore a hidden reality of the everyday that is ingrained in historical relationships and power dynamics, drawing attention to what Michael Rothberg has recognized as ‘exploitation in an age of globalized neo-liberal capitalism’ (2014: iv). This article explores how these games denounce the smartphone industry by using that same technology. For this purpose, we refer to Game Studies theory on procedural rhetoric; values and ethics; and the role of the player, combined with questions of (neo)colonization, globalization, and neoliberalism drawn from Postcolonial Studies. Our analysis shows the complicity of users and their confrontation with the extreme vulnerability of others, emphasizing how the coloniality of power works in our global consumer society. Thus we study the power relationships described and established by these games, the affective reactions which they seek to trigger, and their potential to transform players from passive observers into ethical players and consumers.

Written by Víctor Navarro-Remesal and Beatriz Perez Zapata.


Navarro-Remesal and Zapata. 2018. Who Made Your Phone? Compassion and the Voice of the Oppressed in Phone Story and Burn the Boards