Green Media Studies

EcoPlay Symposium 2019

Symposium: EcoPlay

Time: October 17th (9.00-13.00)

Location: Instituto Cervantes, Domplein 3, Utrecht

On October 17th, 2019, the Utrecht Center for Game Research organized a symposium on EcoPlay, i.e. the use of games and playful interventions to research and teach environmental issues, facilitate more sustainable lifestyles, and promote social change.

Across seven presentations (incl. short Q&A sessions), the topic was approached from four interrelated perspectives:
a) Top-down applications of Ecoplay, e.g. in academia and policymaking,
b) Bottom-up approaches such as ecomodding and climate game jams,
c) Games for Change, with a particular focus on persuasive/educational games,
d) Science-fiction storytelling in Ecogames as well as other Green Media.


08.45-09.15: Coffee

09.15-09.30: Opening Joost Raessens: EcoPlay – Games of multitude

Joost Vervoort The overarching focus of Joost's research is on how engagement with the future can be used to guide action in the present, in the form of policy and strategy development. He is concerned with future-making as politics and governance – how futures processes include and exclude societal perspectives and shape possibility spaces. He is the project leader of two global projects: the CGIAR Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security Programme’s Scenarios Project, and the RE-IMAGINE project on anticipatory governance. Within this broader context of futures and governance, games are important research direction for Joost, since games offer unique possibilities to combine experimentation with 1) new roles in complex systems and 2) new rules, which represent new governance arrangements in 3) interactive, dynamic scenario settings. Joost has recently been awarded an NWO Vidi grant in the form of his project ANTICIPLAY which focuses on understanding and building this potential for games as a way to approach anticipatory governance: Assistant Professor of Foresight and Anticipatory Governance, Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development at the Faculty of Geosciences, Utrecht University.

Summary: Joost will discuss the potential of games as a way to engage with governance challenges in the face of global environmental change, offering an overall perspective and providing several complementary examples from his own projects.

Astrid Mangnus Astrid Mangnus focuses her PhD research on the use of various approaches to futuring, including gaming, in the context of imagining and realising sustainability transformations. Her research has a specific focus on urban contexts and dynamics, both in Europe and in Japan. In the context of her PhD, she has experimented with a range of game-based methods next to other futures approaches. These include local digital multiplayer games (Let’s Kyoto), live role-playing games (the Food Policy Council Simulator), and large-scale location-based games (Utrecht 2040). Astrid’s research focuses on how different factors (such as institutional context, process, participants, methods and design affordances) that make up game-based futuring approaches and interventions relate to various outcomes. Such outcomes include both learning, capacity development and networking effects among participants, as well as new actions and initiatives (such as the organization of local energy transitions and new approaches to local food governance) that contribute to sustainability transformations.

PhD researcher, Urban Futures Studio & Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development, Utrecht University.

Summary: In her talk, Astrid will discuss 1) her research on game-based experimentation with local food system transformations; and 2) her on-going research into the Utrecht 2040 location-based game for Utrecht University students. She will discuss how these very different game-based processes have potential to create change in different ways, and how she investigates whether and how this potential is being realized.

Karin Rebel Karin combines her research on global change and natural ecosystems with innovative sustainability education. Specifically, she works on interdisciplinary and inter-university education, and in enhancing digital education, including the use of gaming.

Associate Professor Environmental Sciences at the Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development, Faculty of Geosciences, Utrecht University.
Senior Fellow at the Center for Academic Teaching, Utrecht University.

Summary: Utrecht University expressed in its strategic plan for 2016-2020 that ‘All students will become acquainted with sustainability issues as part of their curriculum’. To contribute to this, Karin worked together with Joost Vervoort, Astrid Mangnus, Margien Bootsma and the game company IJsfontein to develop Utrecht 2040. In her talk, Karin will show the ideas and structure behind Utrecht 2040, and about the first experiences in the implementation into different teaching programs.

Stefan Werning Stefan Werning is an Associate Professor for Digital Media and Game Studies at Utrecht University, where he organizes the annual Game Research summer school. He obtained his PhD in media studies (2010) at Bonn University and received his venia legendi at Bayreuth University in 2015. Stefan has been a visiting scholar (2005) and fellow (2006-2010) at the program in Comparative Media Studies at MIT. Moreover, he has worked in the digital games industry while completing his PhD research, most notably at Codemasters (2005) and Nintendo of Europe (2007-09).

Associate Professor for New Media & Game Studies, Utrecht University.
Summary: The presentation aims to outline ecomodding, i.e. the exploration of ecocritical concepts and policies by modifying commercial off-the-shelf computer games, as a creative humanities research method, and conceptualizes ecomodding communities around game series like Civilization and The Sims as cultural public spheres that afford productive, ongoing conversations about difficult issues in environmental communication. Drawing on own ecomodding experiments and a diachronic perspective on procedural rhetoric, I will make suggestions on how to refine the ‘language’ of ecomodding and how the method can promote a shift to less agonistic concepts of game-based persuasion such as Burke’s notions of identification and consubstantiality.

11.00-11.30: Coffee Break

Joost Raessens Joost Raessens holds the chair of Media Theory at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. His research concerns the ‘ludification of culture,’ focusing in particular on games and VR for change in relation to global issues such as climate change and forced migration. He recently co-edited The Playful Citizen. Civic Engagement in a Mediatized Culture (2019), the first book in the new AUP series Games and Play. He is currently project leader of the research project Persuasive Gaming. From Theory-Based Design to Validation and Back and co-director of the Utrecht Center for Game Research. His website is

Full Professor and Chair of Media Theory, Utrecht University

Summary: Climate change is one of the most pressing socio-political issues of our time. On the basis of examples of so-called ecogames, the possibilities and limitations of games and play to make people become ecological citizens will be discussed. Joost will argue that ‘games of ecology’ (ecogames) need to be considered in relation to the ‘ecology of games’ – i.e. production, text, reception, socio-political context. We need to – acknowledge the necessity for a broad and diverse understanding of types of impact – on an individual, community and societal level – in order to come to grips with the complexity of this issue.

Hanna Halontka Hanna Halontka is a master student in the New Media and Digital Culture program at Utrecht University. She is a graduate of the Dutch Studies programme at Leiden University and has specialised in Art History. She is also affiliated with the University of Adam Mickiewicz in Poznań where she studied Film and New Media.

Student of New Media and Digital Culture, Utrecht University

Summary: In her presentation, Hanna will discuss why a sandbox city life simulation games such as Block’hood can be used as a tool to increase the participation of citizens in the planning of their cities and ultimately, how such game can contribute to the solving of the problem of unsustainable urbanisation.

Xingtong Liu Xingtong Liu graduated from the Department of Journalism and Communication in Nankai University. She has completed two internships at Tencent and NetEase News as an internet product manager and writer. Her dissertation about user-generated content (UGC) analysis has won the Academic Paper Scholarship at Nankai University. Her research project about diffusion of innovation won the Tianjin Excellence Award.

Student of New Media and Digital Culture, Utrecht University

Summary: The presentation investigates Ant Forest, a game embedded in online payment platform Alipay. When users perform low-carbon activities they receive green energy points, which can be used to plant a virtual tree in Ant forest. Every time you succeed in planting a tree Alibaba will plant a tree in the real world.

Gerald Farca Gerald Farca teaches at the Macromedia University of Applied Sciences (Leipzig, Germany) in the areas of game studies, world-building, and narrative design. His research focuses on the science fiction genre in games (utopia, dystopia, cyberpunk, post-apocalypse, etc.) and how such games can be studied from an ecological perspective. Gerald completed his Ph.D. in the literary department of Augsburg University (where he is a member of the Cultural Ecology Research Group) and spent one teaching/research semester at the Center for Computer Games Research of the IT University in Copenhagen.

Professor, Macromedia University of Applied Sciences (Leipzig, Germany)
Summary: Science fiction and ecological discourse are often two intertwined phenomena. They aim at the betterment of human social affairs and their relation to the natural environment while offering imaginary and practical solutions to contemporary problems. Becoming involved in SF worlds, players venture on an exploration of the unknown and become involved in alternative worlds that are negotiations of contemporary problems. This talk aims to shed light on how the act of play may foster an ecological counter-discourse to current world pollutions. It will explore how different nature/culture concepts are ingrained in the gameworld, its characters and plot, and are negotiated through play.

Joske Houtkamp Joske Houtkamp is assistant professor at the Department of Information and Computing Sciences of Utrecht University and researcher at Wageningen Environmental Research. Her expertise is in human computer interaction, user centered design, stakeholder engagement, citizen science and serious games. She is involved in national and international research projects developing methods and tools including serious games, to present and share geographically related data and information relevant for climate change understanding and adaptation.

Assistant Professor, Department of Information and Computing Sciences, Utrecht University
Researcher, WEnR (Wageningen Environmental Research)
Summary: Literature on the design of persuasive and educational Games for Change often show an optimistic view, discussing the potential effects of games with generally little attempt to substantiate the intended effects on awareness, behaviour change or learning. Theories on persuasive strategies and motivational factors are often applied in the implementation of games; in this presentation we will explore methods and techniques to evaluate the effectiveness of these theories.