söndag 23 oktober 2016

Useless games for a sustainable world (paper)

In my previous blog post I wrote about an abstract Leif Dahlberg and me submitted to a workshop on "uselessness" last week. Well, I actually submitted another abstract to the same workshop together with my colleague Björn Hedin, "Useless games for a sustainable world". Our main idea is that virtual badges that you buy for money inside a computer game perhaps can be seen both as a waste of money and as an environmental boon since you spend money on things that have a very small environmental (materials) footprint.

I wrote that the call for papers was great in my last blog post. Here are a few short excerpts from the cfp:

"For a person or object to be useless, means it does not serve its intended, or any other, purpose. ... When something turns out to be useless, it has failed intrinsically. The inherent negativity of uselessness is directly linked to a supposed obligation for everything and everyone to be useful, at all times, everywhere.

As much as anyone feels useful at a given time, it is a precarious state that can disappear any moment. A day that was intended to be useful might turn out to be unproductive, wasted, useless, followed by shame, guilt and remorse. ...

In this workshop we seek to interrogate the notion of uselessness in culture, politics and aesthetics both empirically and theoretically through four broad interconnected themes: the everyday, space, the body and objects. ...

Potential topics could include, but are not limited to:

The Everyday
How can we complicate notions of useless hobbies, obsessive collecting or hoarding, and conspicuous consumption? ... What does it mean to waste time online? ...

What makes a space useless? What to makes of a space that stores useless objects like a rubbish dump or an attic full of unused stuff? ...

The Body
What purpose do the bodies of the millions of people who work behind desks serve? ... How do gyms, fitness routines, and paradigms of healthy living alter or reinforce our views on the useful body? ...

Trash? Rubbish? Garbage? How are innovation and the inexorable drive for newness rendering all kinds of objects like computers, cd’s, mobile phones, clothes, furniture, etc. useless at an astonishing speed? ..."

Those questions are just amazingly provocative and interesting, aren't they!? Here's our abstract on the simultaneous usefulness and uselessness of real money trade of virtual badges, objects, content:

Useless games for a sustainable world

Daniel Pargman1, 2 & Björn Hedin1

1) KTH Royal institute of Technology, School of Computer Science and Communication (CSC), Department of Media Technology and Interaction Design (MID)
2) KTH Royal institute of Technology, VINN Excellence Center for Sustainable Communications


Many adults - not the least in the context their children’s gaming habits - think that computer games are a useless waste of time and money. Even gamers themselves can think that their gaming habit represents a less-than-useful activity and that they ought to do something else (or at least play less). We here make no normative judgements about the utility (or not) of games but instead analyse computer games from a sustainability perspective. Are computer games “useful” or are they “useless” when regarded through a sustainability lens and against a backdrop of problematising the relationship between sustainability and consumption?

In the sustainability discourse it is clear that Westerners urgently need to decrease their consumption. Or, do they actually only need to decrease the material footprint of their consumption? Could it in fact be the case that high-and-increasing volumes of commerce around digital computer game artefacts (downloadable content, virtual objects and badges) could be framed as “environmentally beneficial”, since the money in question is not spent on other activities, products and services with a considerably higher materials footprint? That would mean that spending money for a “useless” virtual badge inside a computer game actually could be framed as “useful” act of anti-conspicuous consumption in a larger - non-digital - societal context. Analysing the materials intensity of consuming digital content and services is however complicated by the fact that digital games can have tangible real-world material (rebound) effect. With this summer’s large-scale Pokémon Go craze, sales of powerbanks exploded and some half-jokingly referred to these as ‘Pokebanks’. This furthermore echoes last year’s increase in the sales of graphic cards then the computationally demanding game “Witcher 3” was released.

We have, as researchers/lecturers in Media Technology and as parents thought about the sustainability impact of computer games for some time and look forward to having the opportunity to develop these ideas in a paper to your workshop on “Uselessness”.


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