Your PlayStation Has Blood On It: Global Hunger and Global Apartheid

In 2008, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimated that a yearly investment of approximately US$30 billion in agricultural production would significantly mitigate world hunger for the over 800 million persons who cannot afford to consume enough calories to lead an active and normal life. Adjusting for inflation, that figure would stand at around US$35 billion in 2018. According to the Entertainment Software Association’s 2019 Essential Facts About the Computer and Video Game Industry, 65% of American adults play video games, with video game sales for 2018 totaling over $43.4 billion. That is, simply one sliver of the imperialist core’s luxury consumption, restricted to one country, would exceed UN estimates for mitigating global hunger by over US$8 billion. [1]

Video games produced by major publishers are especially stark examples of capitalism’s waste of human labor and the social product, costing tens or hundreds of million dollars in development and marketing. Capitalism churns out these entertainment products that are only widely available to the parasitic populations in the richest imperialist countries while most of humanity lives on under US$5 dollars a day. The commodity chains involved in the production of video game consoles and accessories are sites of severe oppression, dependent upon the super-exploitation of Third World workers and the denial of natural resource sovereignty to countries in the Global South. Sony, for example, utilizes the Taiwan-based Foxconn Technology Group for the production of the PlayStation 4 – a firm notorious for its sub-subsistence wages and abysmal working conditions

The production of these electronics is reliant on tantalum, a metal derived from coltan ore sourced in the Global South. A major source of coltan involved in the production of the PlayStation consoles is the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where 60 percent of the world’s coltan is extracted, and where imperialist demand for this export-oriented “conflict mineral” continues to fuel internecine conflict in the region and strips from the Congolese people the resources of their land – resources valued at over US$24 trillion.

The “gamer culture” of the imperialist West – an adjunct of its wider consumer culture – is maintained at the expense of the environment and health in the Third World. Americans consume 34 terawatt-hours of energy each year on video games (equivalent to $US5 billion); this outstrips the total electricity consumption of many nations in the Global South. Nigeria, for example, consumed a total of 28 TWh in electricity for all uses in 2018. American video game usage further produces carbon dioxide emissions equal to 5 million cars or 85 million refrigerators. Meanwhile, 13% of the world’s population do not have access to electricity at all, a statistic which does not speak to quality or availability of access, and 40% do not have access to clean fuels for cooking. Coltan mining has resulted in extensive deforestation, pollution of water sources from runoff, and extinction threats to native wildlife, such as Grauer’s gorillas.

In Das Kapital, Karl Marx wrote that capital came into the world “dripping from head to foot, from every pore, with blood and dirt.” In the exploitation of the Global South, this is not restricted to capital’s emergence
– it is capital’s norm. While corporate profits in coltan number in the hundreds of billions each year, for workers in the coltan mining industry, wages of a dollar or two dollars a day are usual. Workers are subjected to hazardous conditions, beatings by company and state officials, overwork and wage theft, their hyper-exploitation often guaranteed by overseers with guns, and the destruction of the surrounding environment. Deaths due to “accidents” – or more accurately, the murder of workers by the bourgeoisie – are commonplace. The brutal exploitation of child labor is also common in coltan mining, with a 2015 report of the International Labor Organization detailing how children as young as five are employed in coltan mines in conditions of forced and even unpaid labor, in toxic mines without protection and with most of the work forced to be done by hand:

Some children are forced to work at the mines with their families in situations of bonded labor, while other children are sent away to the mines by their parents to pay off the family’s debt. These children are paid little, if at all. In addition, many mines are controlled by military officers or armed groups, which are known to round up villagers, including children, at gunpoint and force them to work with threats of violence. These forcibly recruited children do not have freedom of movement and do not receive payment for their work. (p. 39)

Sony has not even taken the most “basic steps,” by bourgeois humanitarian standards, in investigating links between their mineral sourcing to child labor in the Congo. The sweat and blood of children is manifested as corporate profit in the production of the PlayStation and in cheap prices for Western consumers. This contemporary imperialist undervaluing of labor in the Global South is concomitant with the historical devaluation of the lives of the colonized in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East. And while the horrors associated with coltan extraction are common knowledge, even widely reported by the mainstream media in the West for over a decade, that their entertainment is based on slavery and murder doesn’t bother “workers” in the First World one bit.

Coltan is but one example, just one commodity among innumerable many that represents a transfer of value from the Global South to the Global North. Not just the the wealth of the imperialist countries, but also the leisure time of its so-called “working class,” is stolen from the proletariat in the Global South. Struggling for socialism and global equality means struggling against imperialism’s system of global apartheid, a system that funnels billions into entertainment for the First World while the Third World starves. A system built on the exploitation and oppression of the world’s majority shouldn’t survive. And it won’t.


[1] In looking at five mechanisms of imperialist value transfer from the Global South to the Global North, Zak Cope estimates in his The Wealth of (Some) Nations (2019) that the First World drains at the least US$5.2 trillion yearly from the Third World (pp. 111-2). Cope’s estimate is conservative, bracketing a number of such mechanisms (pp. 18-21).

* This article riffs on themes from the Revolutionary Anti-Imperialist Movement’s 2008 essay “Your Playstation Has Real Blood On It.”