Benjamin Poynter is an MFA student at the University of Nevada, Reno. His smartphone app, “In a Permanent Save State,” about the working conditions of Apple, Inc’s Foxconn factory in China, was banned from Apple’s iTunes store in Oct. 2012. The controversial app was written about in Wired, The Verge, Forbes and other major news outlets (“Dangerous games,” RN&R, Nov. 1, 2012). It was also nominated for an International Mobile Gaming Award. Poynter’s website is www.benjaminpoynter.com.
Tell me about your app.
It was made for the iPhone essentially about the people who make iPhones. Apple commissioned a factory in China called Foxconn—the headquarters are located in Taiwan—and the factory is located in China. Basically, throughout the years—as early as 2009 but it has extended throughout 2010 and 2011—there’s been worker suicides in the factory due to working conditions or economic reasons. And in a nutshell, I created a video game app that explored the afterlife of seven of those workers in an experimental, straightforward narrative. The workers are real. They were not invented. They were based on actual stories.
It seems like that didn’t go over well with Apple.
No [laughs]. I would be very surprised if it did. Basically, within two hours of the app being on the store, it was immediately removed.
Is the app still unavailable?
Funny story. It’s actually available for the rival company, Android. As soon as the day after, I was like, “I gotta get back to business. How do I address this?” I’m not the first game to address the Foxconn issue. An indie developer called Molleindustria contacted me through email. He made a cartoon game called Phone Story and it addressed the whole lifespan of a phone. He, too, released it on Android, where they are less—what’s the word?—militaristic. It’s much easier in general to get onto that platform as far as uploading it. … So that was exactly a month later, on Nov. 12, 2012. … From there, it’s still uploaded. It was submitted to the IMGA, International Mobile Gaming Awards, who told me they had this new category available called “Serious Games.” I got the notice, about two or three weeks ago, that I’d gotten accepted. It’s sort of big. It’s been explained to me by several people that these awards are like the Oscars for mobile gaming, in a way. I achieved sort of the extent of what I could with this little political indie game.
What did you want people to get out of your app?
One [goal] in mind was to raise awareness, because it was in January of 2012 that I honestly first heard about the issue. As someone indulged in that simulation culture like video games, fanboy-ism as you could describe it, I didn’t see outside the box. When I did see that humanistic point of origin, it struck me pretty hard. … I re-searched it, and people did die while creating the dream of video games. And conceptually, that struck a big nerve with me. So if it struck a nerve with me, certainly it would with other people. And of course, I conceptualized video games and the potential for communication and as an art form as well. It was a very strong idea, in a way, to persist. I’m a fan of breaking the fourth wall, to remove that veil and say, “There’s a ghost in the machine. This is where you come from.” It’s something I don’t think is too well defined, where the machines are built. That’s the criteria for most other mediums. We know where they come from. But for new media, as much as I love it, we don’t know it.