The Week in Review: Conflict Consoles

Illustration for article titled The Week in Review: Conflict Consoles

To be told you paid money for a games console whose unseen components ended or ruined lives a world away is more than uncomfortable. It's angering.

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That much was clear in the discussion of two of Kotaku's top stories this week, concerning what console makers are, can, and could reasonably do about the use of minerals whose mining and sale, in some parts of the world, fund the ugliest of wars.

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It doesn't make gaming immoral, and it doesn't make anyone a bad person for enjoying it, or for buying a legal product made with these materials. If a manufacturer's raw materials can't be reasonably traced to a conflict source, then that conflict can't reasonably trace its funding back to your credit card. That's a fair point. But these resources are being mined and sold in war zones, and put into the supply channel from there. They have a highly specific use. They're found in the devices we buy. Those devices' widespread commercial legitimacy does nothing to resolve the matter.

And willful ignorance - to choose not to know how your actions affect others, is no better than not caring. Both are, by definition, unethical.

Microsoft has, in a statement, acknowledged the reality of the situation in Africa regarding conflict minerals useful to the manufacture of their electronic goods. It and Sony are part of an industry consortium working on a means to address conflict minerals. Nintendo is not a part of that group, but communicates its expectation to suppliers that they comply with their social responsibility policies.

Is this enough?

Hardcore games consumers may be a saturated market, but they are gaming's indispensable constituency, and their values absolutely set the course of battleships like Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo. These gamers are famously skeptical and impossible to please; many even attach product loyalties and purchasing decisions to the motives and personalities of those who make the goods. To spend any time arguing with one, in person, in a forum, in the comments of a post on this site, it would be very clear:

They all care deeply about what goes into the games and hardware they buy.

The week in Kotaku's original reporting:

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DISCUSSION

Slatz_Grobnik
Slatz_Grobnik

"Both are, by definition, unethical."

Therein I disagree, unless Kotaku has moved from Japan to Jainism.

Choices have consequences. We all agree. Choices, in fact, have far reaching consequences. For a wont of a nail, the kingdom was lost and for want of a PS3 a child was raped in a war. We can all follow Goldberg machine.

However, singling out individual strands of causality is unhelpful, almost fatuous. As a preliminary thought, this sort of thing is straight out of the Liberman-Thompson Anti-Video Game playbook. The original editorial looked at consumer electronics: you know, like the netbook that I'm writing this on and the computers all of you are reading them on. Narrowing things to video games, outside for the gallows humor jive of terms like "Playstation war" is hopelessly myopic. If the original point is relevant, it is relevant to us as consumers and First-World residents, not as gamers.

Apathy is an underrated virtue. Willful ignorance...look, I can't stand for any sort of intentional need to not know, outside of something like what your now-spouse did in Auckland the summer of '04. But intentionally not caring is not unethical. It is not that the chain of causality is too strained. It is because the moral calculus is too sophisticated.

Was the Week in Review written in a Starbucks? Drink the coffee? Was it fair trade? If it was, how do we take into account the "blood coffee" used to make Starbucks the thing it is, or the immense damage that Starbucks has done to small business and coffeehouse culture? And is fair trade the right choice? Does it only mean denying more people a wage for the sake of developed world smugness?

And is it all moot anyway? A violent regime in Congo is nothing compared to the vast quantities of electricity consumed by all the consoles...not to mention the netbook I'm writing this on and the servers that host Kotaku. The electrical need and subsequent global warming makes the mere plight of a few forgotten people trivial in comparison to the massive culling of the human population that might follow serious climate change. The Congolese miners could have ideal working conditions and wonderful unions...and still get killed dead by a bunch of lazy Americans who want to play God of War 3.

You have to draw lines. Those lines will be arbitrary. You have to decide what you do and what you don't do. And yes, that almost certainly requires some degree of apathy towards some things, if only to prevent choice paralysis and to not be totally daunted by how difficult the task at hand is. You don't save the world; you save yourself, and your part of the world, and you hope it makes it easier for others to do the same.

Apathy is not unethical. It is a needful component of a reasoned ethical stand.

Furthermore, and this may be speaking out of turn, but I think that some of the ire is not directed specifically at the article in question, but at Kotaku in general. I love this place for its personality and how the editors let their own personalities shine. However, there is the definite sense that the editorial arc of Kotaku is leaning in an increasingly idiosyncratic direction. That leaves a lot of people not knowing where to stand, and much more thin skinned about such articles.