onsdag 25 januari 2017

Our useless paper was accepted (paper)

Paying real money to buy virtual loot boxes inside a computer game.

I wrote a blog post three months ago about a proposed paper (abstract) that me and my colleague Björn Hedin submitted to the Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis (ACSA) 2017 Workshop “Unnecessary, Unwanted and Uncalled-for: A Workshop on Uselessness”. The abstract was accepted back then and me and Björn spent a few sessions in November-December hashing out the core ideas of the paper and the basic flow of the argument. It was in fact pure joy to spend time brainstorming these ideas and the results that came out of this process was very unexpected and, frankly, slightly disturbing. We're not sure what to make of it or even if we have drawn the right conclusions after having followed a train of thoughts to its logical conclusion - so it will be a great paper to discuss at the workshop!

We converted our notes from December into running text that we submitted last week - a 3500-word workshop paper about the sustainability (or not) of computer games called "Useless games for a sustainable world". The paper is really quite nifty but we still only scratched the surface of this topic. I think we had at least twice as many ideas as fit the paper. The paper discusses computer games as a product and the activity of playing computer games in relation to other activities’ carbon intensity (footprint) per 100 Euros, as well as different activities’ carbon intensity per hour. I initially touched upon these ideas in a blog post I wrote three years ago, "On the monetary intensity of media consumption".

I will present the paper in Amsterdam at the end of March and very much look forward to this workshop as it is way out of the ordinary for me. The call for papers was one of the best I've ever seen but I have no idea whatsoever about what other papers will be presented at the workshop. Last time I attended a cultural studies event (a small Swedish conference) was three and a half years ago and I unfortunately have to say I was underwhelmed by the topics and the papers presented there (with some notable exceptions), but, I have high hopes for this workshop. Me and Björn feel we are on to something but we currently don't yet have any specific plans for what to do to develop the paper further. Perhaps we will chop it up, cannibalize it and transfer the reasoning to other papers we will write. Anyway, here's a small teaser from the set-up of our paper:

Useless games for a sustainable world

Daniel Pargman​ & Björn Hedin

"Nothing captures the attention of a child better and more thoroughly than a computer game, be it Candy Crush Soda Saga, Pokémon Go, Battlefield 1 or The Witcher 3. […] We the authors of this paper can as fathers feel unease at our childrens’ willingness to spend a weekend indoors with gaming platforms of various kinds as their closest company. We can feel they are “wasting their youth” on “useless activities” [but what we here ask is] what the effects of computer games are in terms of sustainability. More specifically, what are the effects of computer games in terms of CO2 emissions? For instance, If we spend money (and time) on playing computer games, does that make computer games good or bad (i.e. useful or useless) from a sustainability point of view?
Our conclusion [this far] is thus that activities that generate lower-than-average CO2 emissions per 100 Euros are good and if activities generate significantly lower-than-average CO2 emissions they are even better. Similarly, activities that generate higher-than-average CO2 emissions per 100 Euros are bad and if said activities generate significantly higher-than-average CO2 emissions they are even worse. [...] If we at this point generalize brutally, we could say that all travel (by car, plane or any other mode of transportation that utilizes an internal combustion engine) is very bad, and that almost every other type of consumption represent (comparatively) good ways of spending money - despite large differences within this “other” category. At this point we thus conclude that:

  • one of, if not the worst way of spending money, is to use it for travel.
  • all other ways of spending money is better, but, digging down, there are of course better and worse types of non-travel activities. 
...[so] Are computer games better or worse than other non-travel activities?"

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