Editorial: The Ethics of Gaming

Good day, Lusi-sprites.

As some of you are likely aware, the Foxconn Technology Group has been in the news again this past week after the death of one of their employees after a 36-hour shift. Foxconn, for those who may not know, is the reason behind the “made in China” label on many of the products that we as gamers love and rely upon. The company assembles the iPhone OS products, the PlayStation 2 and PlayStation 3, the Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii. They are also responsible for many of the motherboards used by Dell and HP. The company has other contracts, too, but they are less relevant to this discussion.

Candid snapshot from Foxconn's New Year's party. So rowdy!
Foxconn has had a negative reputation and poor public image for several years now, with allegations of employee abuse first surfacing in 2006. Employees were found to routinely work hours that far exceeded the guidelines of the Chinese government and Foxconn’s business partners. Employees also indicated to visiting journalists that they are not permitted to speak on the production floor, and are punished by being made to stand at attention for extended periods of time. The general public remained mostly oblivious to the situation at the company, until a rash of suicides among workers earlier this year brought the company and its shaky history of employee treatment to the foreground. All of this, again, has been compounded by the accidental death of an employee due to exhaustion a few days ago.

Although the facilities at Foxconn are certainly brighter, cleaner and more comfortable than the stereotypical images we conjure up when thinking about sweatshops, there are marked and important similarities. This has all caused me to wonder how the gaming community feels, now that we have been forcefully reminded about how some of our favourite products are created, and under what conditions. Will we feel the same anger and contempt that many people felt for the likes of Nike and Wal-Mart in the 1990s, when their sweatshop scandals broke? I seem to recall some vehement media campaigns and public boycotts. Will we spam Nintendo, Apple, Sony and Microsoft with letters and emails, asking them to contract the production of their goods to other, more humane factories? Will we gather at big, noisy media-attention-grabbing rallies to burn our consoles and cell phones? Or, will we shrug, remind each other that these employees chose this life and often complain that there is not enough overtime available at times?

She's crying on the inside!
Personally, I really do not know what, if anything, I intend to do. It is not like I can buy a more human rights-friendly Playstation. I also do not know if complaining to the corporations will help. Apple and Sony in particular have taken a great deal of heat over the years, much of it greatly unfounded, written by well-meaning consumers who were ill-educated in how much control the companies actually have over Foxconn. I have read so many nasty comments over the past few days, lambasting Apple for running a sweatshop, calling Sony out for supporting labor law violations, etc. The pleas of informed consumers imploring these mega-corporations to re-evaluate their partnerships and contracts can become lost amid the cesspool of ignorant bleating from the masses who cannot see past headlines like “Employee Dies at Apple Factory”.

All I really know is that I feel rather guilty having fun with my toys, knowing that someone worked insane hours in a lousy environment to put it together for me.


  1. Sure I’d prefer it if Sony et al. decided to relocate their manufacture to a friendlier premises, but there’s not really much I can do about it, I enjoy my gaming too much to boycott any of the brands.

    Who knows, maybe one of the console manufacturers will decide to contract a more ethical workforce by way of a selling point, so that they can look more humane than the other two.

    At any rate I’m not going to feel guilty for doing something I love, I can almost guarantee that your console isn’t the only product in your possession which was manufactured at the expense of someone else’s human rights …

  2. In using your comparison the Nike and Poverty-Mart, you have to ask the following: even with those angry media campaigns, did anything change? Are Nike shoes now made in America? Does Wal-Mart actually give a damn about human rights? What actually came of all those angry letters and protests?

    Even if we do bombard the electronics industry with our rage, nothing will change. Why? Because it doesn’t directly affect us. Here in Cheezburgr Land, we’re throwing our rage at BP right now because it directly affects us, we generally don’t like having poisonous shit floating in our water killing the business of our Southern rednecks (unless we put it there ourselves, then its totally legit). But buying a piece of equipment that we know was painstakingly assembled by some slave-driven Chinese kid, it makes us feel the same guilt you feel…but we’ve never seen or met the Chinese kid that made it, and we still really want to have fun with that toy, so guilt is all we really get out of it, not blinding outrage. And these companies know this, so they’ll continue to do it for years to come. If anything, you might go from “Made in China” stickers to India or Malaysia or the Philippines, but that’s all that will change. Asian exploitation for everyone!

  3. They DO assemble some sweet stuff :(

    10 bucks says the Xbox 360s were assembled at the end of the 20-hour workday, though. :P

    Harhar, I make jokes about poverty. :D

  4. 5 cents says that’s how much an Xbox costs to assemble. :P

  5. If it makes you feel better, the amount of time taken to assemble just your specific consoles is very humane and not at all a human rights violation. You don’t know, they might have quit right afterwards!

    But yeah, like Jennifer said, companies don’t really respond to rage, they respond to actual sales drops, and as much as I’d like to care enough to give up gaming (and iPods and computers), I don’t see that happening :f. Sorry, possibly-dead-iphone-girl. I’m part of the problem!

  6. This is why the world needs more robots. I don’t feel guilty when I make machines do my work. Compact trash faster, Wall-E, you lazy bastard!

  7. Yeah but Chinese labour is still cheaper than robots, so this sort of thing wouldn’t be averted.

  8. I guess the reason I like technology so much is because it’s powered by the tears of children. Mmmm. Sweet, sweet tears.

    That must also be the reason we don’t have sex robots yet. Can’t have kids putting those things together, wouldn’t be right. But if we had kids build the robots that put sex robots together…I need to call Foxconn!

  9. Wait, wait … I think I have it all figured out.

    Chinese robots.

  10. Their fingers aren’t little enough to replace the youngster’s digits.