App Store pulls "educational game" Phone Story for socially subversive themes(and a critical take on the iconic Apple brand)
Not for the first time, Apple is making headlines for its heavy-handed rule of their online media mall, the official App Store.
While they’ve come under fire for keeping tight control of the store’s contents (even dodging allegations that they’d rejected apps, only to later recreate and rebrand them under the Apple umbrella), the software and device developer is certainly within its right to screen App Store entrants, especially as they operate on a profit share model (Apple keeps about 30% of profits, with developers netting the remaining 70 percent).
What’s interesting is the content they choose to censor; while most commonly rejected apps feature nudity or inappropriate religious / political content, there’s also some seemingly innocuous stuff that never makes it onto the market (like indie publishing platform issuu, for example).
But it’s not too hard to understand why, on September 13—four days after it managed to fly under the radar and reach the store’s virtual shelves—the company pulled Phone Story, a role-playing game from Italian subverts Molleindustria, from listings. Interestingly, the game went through Apple’s (well-documented) approval process without raising any flags; somehow, testers managed to miss the fact that the game explores the plight of Congolese miners, children and factory workers risking their lives to manufacture—you guessed it—iPhones.
The game was pointedly developed to highlight the dangers we’re willing to ignore in exchange for our own comfort. “Molleindustria aims to reappropriate video games as a popular form of mass communication,” the collective states on its site. “Our objective is to investigate the persuasive potentials of the medium by subverting mainstream video gaming clichè (and possibly have fun in the process).”
What better way to chastise oblivious iPhone users than to present the case to them in an iOS game purchased from the App Store?
The move’s especially bold when you consider the fact that 14 Taiwanese Apple factory employees have committed suicide in the past year (a trend so unsettling that Apple now requires Foxconn workers to sign a perverse pledge to ensure against future incidents).
So, is Phone Story insensitive? Inappropriate? Or is it clearly calculated commentary, designed to highlight injustice and promote social action?
Molleindustria’s other offerings include culturally-critical RPGs like McDonald’s Videogame, Faith Fighter and Every day the same dream (you are late for work), alongside less structured games like Orgasm Simulator and Leaky World: A Playable Theory (“an interactive interpretation of the essay ‘Conspiracy as Governance’ by Julian Assange”).
It seems like an eclectic mix, but everything fits under their guiding slogan: “One solution: Gamevolution!”
According to Molleindustria:
We believe that the explosive slogan that spread quickly after the Anti-WTO demonstrations in Seattle, "Don't hate the media, become the media," applies to this medium. We can free videogames from the "dictatorship of entertainment", using them instead to describe pressing social needs, and to express our feelings or ideas just as we do in other forms of art.
It’s a creative, and subversive, concept. They’re certainly getting attention and, along with it, a big public platform to explain their views on. And the game’s still available; while Apple may have pulled it, Phone Story’s still up on the Android Market.
A general lesson seems to be: people don’t like feeling uncomfortable. Shocker, right? Remember last year’s “controversial” Simpsons intro, courtesy of street artist-slash-cultural critic Banksy, that depicted grim overseas factories full of children slaving over Simpsons-branded merch?
Audiences were split; is it brilliant? A spot-on jab at parent network FOX? Or, distasteful and kind of creepy? Either way, it started some conversations. And maybe this time, Molleindustria’s controversial take on the cultural economy might spark more than just a dispute over Apple’s acceptance policies.