GMSI Ecogames 2021 Symposium

Pathways to Sustainability

The GMSI at the Pathways to Sustainability 2021 conference
The GMSI at the Pathways to Sustainability 2021 conference

The Green Media Studies Initiative (GMSI)at Utrecht University, a group of researchers exploring the numerous roles media play in tackling the global climate crisis and working towards more sustainable societies, recently organized a hybrid symposium, participated in the annual Pathways to Sustainability conference, launched a new online repository for scholars, educators and climate organizations, and is currently preparing an extensive edited volume, all on the topic of Ecogames.

Ecogames

With the impending climate crisis and its short-term repercussions becoming more ‘tangible’ every year, popular media and especially games are increasingly moving into the center of attention. Whether these so-called ‘ecogames’ are providing new spaces to practice alternative ways of living, or reproducing ecomodernist fantasies, videogames as well as the player cultures emerging around them are tuned in to many of the pressing environmental concerns we face today. The symposium and upcoming edited volume build on the growing body of scholarship that explores this phenomenon, and aim to situate it within the broader field of environmental humanities as well as, more specifically, green media studies, to complement existing research traditions that focus on environmental cinema, documentaries, or television.

Screenshot from the game The Sims 4: Eco Lifestyle (https://simscommunity.info/2020/05/06/ladders-are-coming-to-the-sims-4-base-game/)
Screenshot from the game The Sims 4: Eco Lifestyle (https://simscommunity.info/2020/05/06/ladders-are-coming-to-the-sims-4-base-game/)

The symposium brought together an international group of acclaimed scholars working on ecogames, including e.g. Alenda Chang (UC Santa Barbara), Colin Milburn (UC Davis), Hajo Backe (ITU Copenhagen), Pawel Frelik (University of Warsaw) and Melissa Bianchi (NSU Florida), who contributes distinct perspectives on ecogames as an emerging aesthetic, cultural and socioeconomic phenomenon.

Upcoming Publication

Structure of the Ecogames book
Structure of the Ecogames book

All presenters also contribute a chapter to the upcoming edited volume Ecogames, scheduled for publication at Amsterdam University Press (AUP) in 2022. The goal of the book is to demonstrate the variety of ways in which environmental questions, hopes, but also concerns surface in both digital and analogue games, playing practices and player cultures, how they promote and shape ecological awareness and activism, as well as the ethical, political, and aesthetic pitfalls that continue to challenge such examples of ludic engagement. To organize this diversity of approaches and viewpoints apparent in ecogames scholarship, the book comprises four sections: 1. Games for Change, 2. Future Worlds, 3. Metagaming Practices, and 4. Nonhuman Perspectives. These four sections allow the book to cover the main dichotomies characterizing the entire field, from human to nonhuman epistemologies, from games-as-objects to gaming as critical practice, and from contemporary challenges to future imaginaries. The edited volume will be the inaugural book in the recently launched book series Green Media at AUP.

Green Media @ Pathways to Sustainability

On Thursday, 14th October 2021, the GMSI presented its activities at the accompanying program of the 2021 Pathways to Sustainability conference at Tivoli Vredenburg in Utrecht. During the lunch break, visitors were able to watch segments from video essays created by students as part of the BA course Green Media as well as a short video overview of ‘historical’ and contemporary ‘ecogames’. Two games, a demo of Terra Nil, an upcoming ‘reverse’ city-building game by independent South African video game developer Free Lives, and Oiligarchy, a satirical online game framed by developer Molleindustria as a playable commentary on the oil industry, were even playable  on arcade game cabinets provided courtesy of Utrecht-based incubator Dutch Game Garden.

The Green Mediography

At this event, the GMSI also launched the first publicly accessible prototype of the Green Mediography, an online repository created to provide a comprehensive overview of how environmental concerns are featured across different media types (including popular games and films, but also emerging ‘green’ media genres like e.g. photographs, social media or apps). The online tool is designed to help e.g. educators, activists, policy-makers, communicators or NGOs working on sustainable futures to learn more about how media, individually and in combinations, can support their sustainability-oriented research, teaching and outreach activities.

The prototype version of the Green Mediography is publicly accessibleand constantly expanded through research and teaching activities by the Green Media Studies Initiative and its partners.

A screenshot of the Green Mediography prototype, showing selected entries as well as the corresponding taxonomies
A screenshot of the Green Mediography prototype, showing selected entries as well as the corresponding taxonomies