Greenpeace Worries About Gender-Bending Xboxes, Wiis and Playstations: Publicity Stunt or Science?

It’s tested dildos; it’s examined laptops and iPhones; there is, it seems, nothing Greenpeace won’t do to protect people from chemicals in consumer products; and now it’s out to save the legions of gamers from the plastics, plasticizers and fire retardants in Xboxes Wiis and Playstations, which it suggests could have a deleterious effect on male joysticks, sexual development

One might suggest that spending hours in front of even the greenest gaming system is not going to have a positive effect on sexual development, but that would be a more conceptual take on “development” than a biological one; if you spend all your time gaming on screen, you’re not going to even see the ballpark, let alone make it to first base. Sorry.

In terms of biology, which is what Greenpeace is worried about, the key issue is exposure. If you eat your Wii, chances are there’s going to be some problematic health effects, and they would be in addition to the pre-existing mental illness or stupidity which led you to confuse a games system with food. But the same trivial point can be made of pretty much anything: Don’t eat glass, or bicycles, or paint chippings, or lightbulbs. And don’t throw your Wii in the local river either, if you have the remotest clue about keeping the environment clean.

What Greenpeace has done, as it did with sex toys and laptops and iPhones, is to take the very worst research findings on lab animals and blow them out of context, which is something journalists love, because it’s like having someone write all the boring bits of your story for you, leaving you to think about joysticks double entendres (alas, Computer Weekly couldn’t even be bothered to do that).

But here’s the problem: If you inject a rat with increasingly large doses of a chemical, bad things are increasingly likely to happen. But is that chemical likely to migrate from a console onto your skin and be dermally or orally absorbed in a way that counts as a similar risk to health? In order to have a real, scientific discussion about the toxic risks of game consoles, you’d have to measure exposure, and show that such exposures were likely to have a health impact on humans.

Greenpeace doesn’t do this, because it would mean having to do a real risk assessment instead of simply playing at being scientific and insinuating a danger. Which is why it resorts to such tortured locutions as:

What is clear, however, is that the presence of high levels of phthalates in such materials contribute to overall levels of exposure to these chemicals for users, including children.”

Um, we actually do know how children and adults are exposed to phthalates: it’s overwhelmingly through food and dust. You would have to have a dildo or a Wii in your mouth for hours and hours to generate any appreciable chemical migration. And it’s far from clear what risk that would expose you to (apart from the suggestion that you were taking oral fixation beyond the boundaries of social acceptability. So, pace Greenpeace, it’s not clear at all that these chemicals constitute a risk as used in any of these products. In fact, the likelihood is slim based on the way gamers use games until proven otherwise.

Of course, planting the suggestion that products from Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft are going to impair sexual function in pre-pubescent and adolescent males is a great way of generating publicity; but until Greenpeace goes from just measuring the chemicals in game consoles to measuring how they are transmitted to the kids using them, and how that constitutes a health risk, that’s all it this latest report is – a publicity stunt.

See, also: Nobel Laureate in Chemistry Says Phthalates Do Not Pose a Risk to Health

Please Note: STATS receives no funding from any manufacturer of computer game consoles or plastics or affiliated industries.

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