by Abigail Wang
It’s common knowledge that a big problem in environmental issues is the need for people to undertake individual, personal energy-saving initiatives. Scientists and environmental activists trying to push people to care more about personal energy decisions may have found an answer to their struggle in gaming. By making mundane things fun, people might be more open to cutting down energy usage. A few companies have already developed games for both companies and individuals to implement better energy actions. Energy Chickens, created by a group of researches and developers at Pennsylvania State University, is one of the latest apps on the market. The game assigns a chicken to each household appliance and the user is responsible for keeping the chickens healthy by maintaining low energy consumption. Healthy chickens grow and lay eggs, which can be exchanged for market items to customize your chickens. If a user increases his or her energy consumption with particular appliances, the chickens associated with those products will grow sick and not lay eggs.
This method of turning daily activities into a game, and rewarding those who make changes to their lifestyle, is called gamification. Gamification seems to be working remarkably well; a study released by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy found that gamification could encourage individuals to save up to 10% of their energy. If people were simply better at using less electricity, which accounts for 38% of carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S., the potential for reducing emissions would be huge.
Other non-profits and companies are trying to get whole communities involved in energy saving. Cool Choices, a Wisconsin-based nonprofit, offers sustainability games, and business consulting and training to companies and schools to help staff and students adopt more green practices. Cool Choices creates games for company employees to compete to save as much energy as possible, and often offers cash prizes as an incentive.
Is this incentivized gaming strategy a long-term solution? It’s hard to tell right now, but studies have shown people to maintain behavior changes as long as the incentives are meaningful. Individuals aren’t likely to maintain good energy-saving habits without some sort of reward.
Verchot, Manon. “Games Help Save Energy.” Scientific American: 18 February 2015. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/games-help-save-energy/
Penn State Studio Lab. “Energy Behavior Change.” http://studiolab.psu.edu/projects/energy-behavior-change
Cool Choices. http://coolchoices.com/