Gamification: an essential tool to encourage responsible energy behaviours?

energy efficiency, energy 3.0, electricity consumption, Gamification, Serious gameGames can be both entertaining and educational and therefore serve as a powerful tool to raise awareness of complex issues. Available in their present form since the early 2000s, so-called “serious games” have provided a fun and innovative way of dealing with the management of various organizations or businesses and promoting ideas or values. Already popular among artists, scientists, private companies, public institutions, etc. as an approach to goals such as education, information, communication and training, serious games are now getting attention from the energy and energy efficiency sector.

Serious games as incentives for behavioural change

Serious games can foster awareness of issues related to energy use by getting players more or less emotionally involved, thus enabling them to learn values, understand new issues and change their behaviours.

In order to durably shape players’ values and behaviours, serious games must meet a number of requirements. The duration of the game, its target, the tasks players must perform, etc. are essential aspects that greatly contribute to user involvement. A delicate balance must therefore be struck between entertainment and education as users move from stage to stage.

The energy sector has developed a wide range of serious games, most of which have two goals: raising awareness of environmental and energy issues and encouraging players to consume less energy. Thanks to a variety of game modules, players can adjust energy use parameters (e.g. energy consumption by household appliances, homes or entire cities, virtual monitoring) and assess their impact on the course of the game (ecological and climate footprint).

Comprehensive understanding of environmental issues

A number of games were designed with a view to modelling the impacts of energy consumption on climate. Because they are rich in content, they require sustained involvement on the player’s part, while remaining an entertaining experience. Clim’way, for instance, has the player design and implement a city-wide climate plan and solve various problems in the course of the game’s 50 stages (each stage representing a year). The duration of the game is at least two hours.

A more advanced game called SOS-21 models the player’s dwelling place and life circumstances in a three-dimensional environment according to his/her preferences: location (cities of various sizes vs country), housing … Through their avatars, users are made to manage everyday-life situations at home or at work by making more or less energy-intensive choices.  Each game stage is followed by an energy assessment which enables players to understand the consequences of their decisions.

Such games make players aware of the logistical and technical challenges entailed by their energy choices. Besides, by simulating the environment they actually live in, gamification has an increased impact on users.

Encouraging responsible behaviours through monitoring

These various software, applications and games are an attempt to lower or even remove the natural obstacles between conscience and action. The website, for instance, suggests a number of steps that have a real bearing on energy consumption and efficiency in their client companies, while keeping count of what was implemented and how much was saved.

One of the most advanced of its kind, the “Plan it green” game by National Geographic trains players to design sustainable buildings and form environment-friendly habits.

Lâchez prise” (French for “Let go”) by the Montreal Science Centre is an example of a simple game that incentivizes responsible behaviour. Players must find six objects in a house in order to solve six energy problems in six different rooms in less than nine minutes. Its short duration and user-friendly interface make it accessible to a wide public.

Tangible and measurable results of gamification

A study was conducted to assess the actual impact of serious games on user behaviour, based on a game called “Energy Chickens”. The daily energy consumption data of the users’ appliances are fed into the programme and used to breed virtual chickens whose health improves when energy is saved. Players are thus encouraged to save energy in order to expand their virtual poultry farm.

288 appliances were fitted with adequate sensors in order to monitor their energy consumption during 24 weeks, while 42 participants were introduced to the game and played for 12 weeks.

The study showed that daily energy consumption sank by 13% (23% on resting days and 7% on working days). 69% of participants said that the game had had a strong influence on them and that they had already started to change their habits out of the workplace.

According to a study conducted in January 2014 by IDC Energy Insights, 60% of energy providers and retailers could be using at least one serious game by 2016. Gamification will undoubtedly play a significant role in the fight for energy sobriety.

For more information:

  • Abstract of the “Energy chicken” study
  • An overview of environment-related serious games
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