After a dozen tips pleaded with us to cover a seemingly scandalous story on Yahoo this morning headlined, "Playstation 2 component incites African war" some of us here at Joystiq HQ thought the story didn't sit right. First of all, we'd already read that story seven years ago when shortages of the newly launched PlayStation 2 were later attributed to coltan, which is later refined into tantalum, a heat-resistant element that (according to a 2001 New York Times story on this very same issue) "can be found inside almost every laptop, pager, personal digital assistant and cell phone."
So how is it that a commonly used material that briefly made headlines in 2001 because of its association with PS2 shortages has now filled our inbox with tips exclaiming, "The PlayStation 2 kills children" (really, we got that tip)? Easy! A major outlet, Yahoo in this case, runs a story on a report by activist site Toward Freedom who include a sensational, albeit predictable, quote from former British Parliamentarian Oona King, who cleverly analogized, "Kids in Congo were being sent down mines to die so that kids in Europe and America could kill imaginary aliens in their living rooms." Of course, we wonder if she offered that quote to them over her mobile ... or maybe email using a laptop computer.
Point being, laying the blame on the PlayStation 2 – built by Sony who, it should be noted, had already begun trying to limit their use of Congolese coltan back in, all together now, 2001 – is scapegoating of the worst kind. Then, citing things like increased prices for coltan – also taken from 2001 (the New York Times story notes that in the Spring of 2001, "the price of coltan crashed, falling from $80 a kilo in March to $8 in June") is selective reporting. That's to be expected from an activist website tasked with a political agenda, but it's disappointing coming from a major video game outlet tasked with, one would hope, providing a more thoughtful consideration of the already besieged industry it's covering.
Source – Playstation 2 component incites African war (Yahoo / 2008)
Source – The Dirt in the New Machine (NYT / 2001)