Panel 16: Games, Geographies and Imaginary Futures

Jan Houška- Hope labour vs reality: Experiences of Eastern European expatriates and remote workers in Czech game companies

Eastern Europeans form a considerable group of internationals in the Czech game industry (GDACZ 2022). Their number increased due to war in Ukraine, with Ukrainians moving to Czechia (Saksena, 2022) and companies offering remote work to Russians.

The research is based on 3 semi-structured interviews with each respondent, over 10 months. It is longitudinal to cover stages of game production (Young, 2021) or war impacts. The sample consists of 10 Eastern Europeans. For most, work in Czech companies is the first experience in game development. Concept of hope labour, which refers to under-compensated work carried out in the present in the hope of future employment (Ozimek, 2019), is therefore used here to analyse their experiences.

Respondents mentioned lower salaries but did not identify other undercompensating factor of unpaid overtime (Ozimek, 2019). They were invited to improve games’ engines and artistic qualities, serving as work gratification in the age of procedural content generation (Chia, 2022). However, for nationals impacted by the war, salary decrease is a serious issue, as they undergo labour of hope (Grove, 2021) due to their relocation driven by necessity rather than choice. In comparison with Park et al (2022) study, expatriates in the Finnish game industry are more commonly seniors. It remains to be seen if such difference can be attributed to differences in workforce demands, or to uneven relationships between centre and periphery of global game production (Hammar, 2022).

Kirsi Pauliina Kallio, Jouni Häkli and Miki Mäkelä: BiciZen- Advancing sustainable urban mobility through citizen science

The paper presents preliminary findings from a comparative, multidisciplinary research project on urban cycling, carried out in four cities in Europe: Aveiro (Portugal), Barcelona (Spain), Enschede (Netherlands), and Tampere (Finland). The research team consists of urban planners, geographers, engineers, and computer scientists. We aim to learn about urban mobility, public engagement and cycling through a citizen science platform titled ‘BiciZen’. BiciZen is a crowdsourcing platform in the form of a mobile app that aims to make cities and city-regions more bikeable. The platform aims at, primarily, circulating the practical expertise of urban cyclists and empowering them as mundane political actors – bicizens – in their cities.

On the platform users can share data and information about their cycling experiences, on both urgent matters and aspects relevant in the long-term (parking, theft, safety, conflicts with other road users, obstructions in cycle paths). It also invites suggestions for improvements to infrastructures and reporting positive experiences, and can be used for documenting and studying cycling phenomena (e.g. patterns of bicycle flows, participation in cycling events). BiciZen has the potential to support cycling at different intensities. It may encourage occasional cyclists to cycle more often as they can learn from regular cyclists about road conditions and functional routes for instance. Regular cyclists, instead, can inform each other about new routes, nice locations, and occasions of danger, which expands their comfortable scope of cycling. The platform can also be used by local and regional public administration, should they find the information gathered by urban cyclists beneficial in their endeavor to transition to a low-carbon mobility future (anonymized datasets shared as open data). In the study, the users of BiciZen are involved as actors of citizen science who participate in the applied research with researchers.

Zhen Zeng- Planting trees in a FinTech-driven game: exploring the spatial creation and place experience in Ant Forest

Tree planting and anti-desertification have been playing important roles in China’s environmental politics. Besides environmental reasons, “making the deserts green” is closely linked to the consolidation of state power, such as mass mobilization, internal territorialization, and patriotism cultivation. In July 2016, the biggest FinTech company in China launched a gamified afforestation programme which is called Ant Forest. It allows the game-users to plant trees in the real world by choosing “low-carbon” consumption. By the end of 2020, 550 million game-user had planted more than 220 million trees through this gamified programme, and most of them were planted in the Gobi areas in North-western China, such as Inner Mongolia and Gansu.

This paper explores the virtual spatial creation technologies in Ant Forest by analyzing its background game settings using visual critical discourse analysis. It examines the roles of state power and corporate power in jointly shaping the ways “virtual Gobi” and “imaginary borderlands” are made. Moreover, it probes the virtual place experience of the game-users through semi-structured interviews, investigating the game-users’ attachments to the imaginary and remote arid areas in north-western China and the symbolic role of “greening deserts” in fostering the participants’ senses of the “self” and its relationship with the environment and the state.

The preliminary research findings show that Ant Forest creates a game-world – a virtual space – in which it defines the environmental problems and produces environmental knowledge. This game-world is created and presented in a way enhancing the stereotypical imaginations of the Han urban residents about the peripheral, ethnical, and rural regions in Northern China. It also echoes the dominant ideologies of consumerism, modernization, and developmentalism that have been jointly promoted by the capital and the state power.

Jian Xiao and Haoze Wang- Nostalgia in the platform era: A case of card-punching the Chinese old communities

The process of urban regeneration has attached new meanings to the established spatial forms. In this study, we use the case of card-punching the old communities in China, referring to the urban community which was built up to the 1990s and mainly composed of traditional dwellings, and explore how nostalgia, serving both as concept and practice, is reshaped in the platform era. More specifically, we focus on three categories of people including the amateur photographers, the young residents, and the city-goers who conduct the practice of card-punching the old communities, discern their motivations and the process of memory-building, and describe how they interact with the old communities. We found that the platform era has created proconsumers of nostalgic contents, in contrast with the passive process in the era of mass communication, although the production can be similar in content and fashion. Meanwhile, the self-discovery process in reality combined with the mediated image virtually can generate a sense of authenticity for the city. In this sense, nostalgia is progressed from a homogenous impression to a heterogeneous urban experience. It is argued that the new process of interaction, connection, production and circulation in the platform can stimulate a larger range of nostalgic atmosphere and thus result in a new form of digital sense of place.