Guilt Trip in Phone Story

The flash game Phone Story was developed my Molleindustria to inform consumers about the “darker side” of their smart phone’s origin. Originally designed to be played on the screen of a smartphone, Phone Story is also playable on a computer. The game uses a throwback 16-bit style and relatively simple game mechanics like clicking on specific areas at the correct time, catching targets by dragging a platform, and dragging items to their corresponding target areas. The simple, arcade-esque nature of Phone Story creates a stark contrast with the actual message of the game.

While the game’s mechanics are simple, it’s moral implications complicate things a bit. With the player’s first play through, an electronic face appears and informs the player that it will be telling them the story of their smart phone while providing them with entertainment (the game itself.) Throughout each stage of the game, the face describes moral bankrupt scenarios tied to their phone in which the consumer is heavily involved. Levels in the game range from a coltan mine in the DRC, a Chinese components factory, a first-world shopping center, and finally a Pakistani salvaging station.

A twist with Phone Story is that the player assumes the role of whichever force perpetuates the amoral actions in each scenario. For example, instead of playing as a coltan minor, that player acts as a soldier who keeps slave children working in the DRC. At the Chinese factory where working conditions are so harsh that laborers frequently kill themselves, the player catches suicidal workers to prevent them from escaping the factory (in this case through death).

By requiring the player to act as the oppressor in these inhumane scenarios, the player is forced to feel responsible for said scenarios. It is a simple yet highly effective tool to foster a sense of responsibility for anyone who owns a smart phone. Phone Story continues to criticize consumers indirectly by describing the “smart phone agenda” wherein a company pays large sums of money to ensure that consumers feel unique and trendy for purchasing a product, just like everyone else who buys it. The message is simple and clear, but it still does not cross into the threshold of preachy. By revealing the game’s message through the perspective of a straight-forward computer, players do not feel like an ideal is being rammed down their throat. Rather, consumers are simply made aware of an issue that they happen to be directly involved with. Phone Story does an excellent job of balancing interest to play, and a clear message.

play here:

http://www.gamesforchange.org/play/phone-story/

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4 comments
  1. ultrapoulet said:

    This was quite an interesting game to play.As I was playing it, I did notice that it started coming off as kind of like a propaganda game, but the message it delivers is quite insightful. As you mentioned, it didn’t feel too preachy (Like Cooking Mama PETA Edition), so the player doesn’t feel forced into accepting a message. Its whole purpose is to inform the player that there’s more to the creation of a smart phone than what it originally seems. It also informs the player that, when new versions are released, something has to happen to the older versions. Another good thing about the game was that, with its simple controls and gameplay, the player is able to easily concentrate on what is being said. If the game required more concentration, the message might have ended up on deaf ears, rendering the game pointless. All in all, this game does a good job of informing the player, but not also coming off as full-blown propaganda.

  2. This is a great example of a subtle propaganda game. Like the above commenter said, it doesn’t beat you over the head with its message like PETA’s Cooking Mama game, but instead lets the player discover the message for themselves through the game’s mechanics and scenarios. Catching suicidal workers felt almost wrong to me, as I knew I was playing the “immoral” side of the situation. It’s that kind of subtlety which makes this an effective game. If the player is too aware of the message before they start playing, they may start playing with preconceived opinions.

  3. sgosain said:

    This was a game that falls into the propaganda discussion that we had a couple of weeks ago. After playing the game, the first things that entered my mind was that it was a propaganda toward sick living conditions that our capitalist system takes advantage of in 3rd world country. The part of the game of the game that I found most displeasing was the suicidal workers aspect, because that hit the player hardest in showing that he was the villain in the circumstance, as well as being the major negative hit on the entire game. I do not agree that the game was very subtle because I feel that the messages and signals are being sent from the very beginning, which may make a player have preconceived notions, but doesn’t change the fact that the messages are being sent.

  4. snbrown said:

    This is an interesting and unique game to play. It kept my interest for a bit, but thinking about it in the sense of being the person responsible for each of the scenarios. This game is a good example of propaganda. It does not directly tell the player what is being done that is wrong, but instead allows the player to see the message as they play the game. Sadly, I do not feel that this game will change the lives and actions of many people. More smart phones will be created and more people will continue to buy them.

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