Art Ethics and Blood Diamonds

I want to bring up the issue of ethics in art. How much responsibility do we have as artists to draw attention to issues or, at the very least, be aware? Art ethics have been on my mind since my friend found a independent video game about diamond traders operating in Angola in the year 2000. It’s a two person turn-based strategy game in which players are attempting to sell the last of their blood diamonds before the market caves.

For those of you who don’t know about the conflict in Sierra Leone, check out this article. To quickly recap, rebels and the government fought in a civil war. The rebels panned for diamonds in rivers and sold them to De Beers of London to fund their campaign. These diamonds were labeled Blood Diamonds, or Conflict Diamonds. Since then, the UN has pulled together to prevent conflict diamonds from entering main stream markets. The Kimberly Process is how the market is regulated. I’ll let you read that on your own.

So, the issue we’ve talked about is why make a game about conflict diamonds, especially from the point of view of a trader? One answer could be to bring awareness to the fact that this happened. However, the Kimberly Process was put in place because people become aware and did not want to support conflict. My friend and I are still trying to wrap our heads around why one would create such a game. Does the creator know that there’s social stigma surrounding blood diamonds? I’d have to say, yes. How could he not, especially after developing the game? Then again, is it really an issue? Where does his responsibility lay if he has any? I’m still wrestling with it.

Another member of my discussion had this to say:

As far as artist responsibility goes, I think that they have no responsibility to be sensitive about cultural issues, however they do have the responsibility to understand the significance of what they’re doing an who they’re giving their art to. Thus, if an artist was to make something controversial or downright immoral, they should expect the backlash in full force. Sometimes things like that can actually be good if the culture rejects it (just compare some games that were made at the beginning of the game console days to what we see now.)

Of course, a good artist should be both accurate in their information as well as significant in what they produce. That’s a responsibility that few take seriously though.

As an artist, I’d like to create pieces that contribute to society or draw attention to something that needs to be changed. I worry that this video game, Diamond Trust of London, will trivialize something that is serious. Or rather, normalize a wrong. However, no one has played through the entirety of the game yet. There may be some self awareness planted somewhere later in the game. I don’t know.

I want to know what others think about this issue. At what point should an artist be aware or feel responsible?


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