Sunday, April 25, 2010

Ubisoft Goes Green

So this bit of news actually isn't related to theatre; it comes from the video game industry. But I consider the two businesses to be more related than typically thought, and aside from that, I think this is an excellent example of intersection between environmental and economic spheres.

Games publisher Ubisoft has publicized that they are making the move to eliminate the paper manuals that are packaged with all of their games and have been a mainstay since the beginning of the industry. In place of these paper manuals, Ubisoft plans to supplement the in-game tutorials that most software developers create these days with online PDF manuals. According to Ubisoft, this move will obviously reduce energy and paper consumption, as well as offer more 'robust' manuals through their online service.

Now, I think this is just great. It's a no-brainer that eliminating paper manuals will save resources. We continue to stumble towards a nearly-paperless society, and I think that's a very good thing. The really interesting thing to me is just how divided the opinion of gamers has been over this news. There's plenty of grumbling over the disappearance of the manuals, from perceived inconvenience to complaints that 'games have always had manuals.' This illustrates the important and unfortunate point that there are large segments of the population that are in favor being ecologically sustainable, but only so long as it has no negative impacts on their quality of life, or indeed, really creates no change in their life whatsoever. This honestly isn't so surprising.

But the other fascinating thing is how commonly the point is raised that Ubisoft most likely stands to save money with this new policy, although the company hasn't officially released any concrete figures in that respect. That in itself, not surprising. But what I find so intriguing is how this fact is almost uniformly treated as evidence of Ubisoft being duplicitous, self-serving, or engaging in green-washing. Even more-or-less serious gaming journalists have had a sort of 'Aha! Gotcha!' response.

Here's my basic problem: The underlying assertion here is that if a company's green policies also end up saving the company money, this is somehow evidence of the company selling out. It's a subtler example of the negative assumption that progress in environmental sustainability is always made at some other cost, it either being economically or in quality-of-life considerations. This is a dangerous assumption; it discourages synergistic problem-solving that can simultaneously address a multitude of separate concerns, and can ultimately serve as a barrier to progress towards true sustainability.

I think what is the root cause of most of the un-ease (aside from a basic dislike of change of any kind) is the perception that the consumer is now getting less. That they will be paying the same amount of money for less product, essentially a combination of the two points I've addressed so far. And while this may be true in the most basic of senses, I think there also has to be a reckoning with the actual reality of the situation: There is a tiny and increasingly shrinking segment of the population that will be buying these games and yet have no access to Internet-based resources, connectivity is simply too wide-spread these days. Secondly, even taking that aside, most manuals will be flipped through once or twice, only to be tossed in the trash or to sit in a plastic box for the foreseeable future. These are not long-term reference documents we're talking about here. What this means is that gamers troubled by this change are complaining about 'getting less' in the most crass and visceral sense, that they didn't even need it, but they're mad as hell that they're not getting it anymore. This is to me, ultimately, the truly frightening and disturbing face of consumerism.

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