What's All This "PlayStation Wars" Business?

Illustration for article titled What's All This "PlayStation Wars" Business?

We were flooded by emails today from readers tipping us off about this piece, which for some reason made it to Yahoo News' front page. The story - based off a report conducted by Toward Freedom - suggests that Sony's humble PlayStation 2 "has fuelled a brutal conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo". Huh?


Putting aside the fact Yahoo are a few weeks late on the last time this story did the rounds, and seem to be running the story solely to take delight in linking a gaming console with human rights abuses, the fact the original Toward Freedom article repeatedly points the finger at Sony - and in particular the PlayStation 2 - is more than a little, well, strange.

To give you some background, the Democratic Republic of Congo, in Central Africa, is sitting on a reserve of a metallic ore known as coltan. From coltan, we are able to extract tantalum, which is used in all kinds of modern consumer electronics products, from PCs to mobile phones to DVD players to, yes, games consoles. Specifically, it's used to make resistors and capacitors. The DRC's coltan supplies constitute around 1% of the world's total, with the bulk coming from Brazil, Canada and Australia.

During the late 90s and early 00s, as war engulfed most of Central Africa, people also fought over the DRC's coltan supply. Just as they fought over diamonds, over people, over ideals, over religion and over land. It was during this fighting that, aside from the theft of coltan by the DRC's neighbouring states, some terrible atrocities took place in the DRC, including the enslavement of local children, who were sent into dangerous mines to extract coltan, which was then sold to overseas buyers to help further fuel the conflict.

These human rights violations took place. There's no doubt about this, nor is there any doubt that it was Western and Asian demand for consumer electronics that helped sustain the battles over the DRC's coltan. This isn't some political think-piece, however. We're just curious as to why someone would call this a "PlayStation War", when really, PlayStations had very little to do with it.

See, it's believed that the war was at its worst when the price of tantalum spiked between 1998 and 2001, due to "increased demand". Yes, that timeline coincides with the roll-out of the PS2. But come on. Tantalum is used to make personal computers and mobile phones and DVD players, the sales of which dwarf those of games consoles. 1998-2001 happens to be the time when DVD players first hit the market, when mobile phones first became common place and the internet hit the big time, bringing increased PC usage with it. It was those market conditions that increased demand, not the building of a few million PlayStation consoles.

Yet no PC manufacturers are named by Toward Freedom. Or by Yahoo, or by any other mainstream media outlet which reported this story. No mobile phone companies. Or any other consumer electronics manufacturers. They're not called the "Nokia Wars", or the "Samsung DVD Player Wars". They're called the "PlayStation Wars", regardless of how minuscule a contribution the PS2 actually made, because that's sexier, and will help get your story picked up by a game-fearing mainstream media.


Luke Plunkett

@Eltigro: Yeah, that's what killed me. Not just Sony, but SONY.