Games and gamification can be used to motivate and support citizens’ behaviour in energy use, but this is not without it’s potential downfalls. Since most games rely on some method of internal or external reward, associating rewards with activity is not to be taken lightly. One false move and you risk serious negative impact, rather than a positive one.
As research has shown time and time again, the use of external rewards such as points and badges, which are the staple of bad-gamification, can have a negative impact on the overall outcomes in the long term. Alfie Kohn’s Punished by Rewards details how the use of points, stars and otherwise so called game mechanics championed by examples of gamification have a serious long term consequences in reducing the joy of doing the activity for the sake of it.
As Deci et al. (1999) showed in their analysis of 128 studies examining the effects of extrinsic rewards on intrinsic motivation – all types of external reward, whether based on; engagement, completion or performance significantly undermined free-choice intrinsic motivation.
This should be a wake up call for anyone new to this field – it’s the likes of Coursera Gamification Course that keep on spreading the nonsense that we are all behaviourally driven automatons who would keep on pressing the lever for our reward – like we are starving lab rats in the great experiment of life. This is patently misinformed.
Energy use can be reduced using games and gamification – but the methods and metrics used to bring about the long term behaviour change are rather more complex than presenting a game such as this :
And expecting that by playing this you will actually do things differently.
Of course learning and education can play a big role in behaviour, combining this into a game you may think that a learning game or serious game for energy efficiency may be a truly effective method of driving the message home. And of course there are published experiments which show just such impact. Published just this Month, Orland et al. (2014) describe their success in providing energy saving in an office environment through serious game intervention.
- Serious game participants decreased overall energy use by 13% from baseline.
- From baseline, energy use decreased 23% on non-work days and 7% on work days.
- 69% of participants indicated that the game helped them be more energy conscious.
There still seems to be a large gap between the science of behaviour change and decision making as lead by psychologists and behavioural economists set against most so called gamification solutions spearheaded by sales teams and marketing experts. No wonder almost 80% of gamification efforts fail to produce the impact.
Alternative interfaces for gamifying energy use.
The real danger in using games and gamification in reducing energy is to in inadvertently increase the use – as Sunstien and Thaler pointed out in their seminal book ‘Nudge’ in their experiments with domestic use of Energy in San Marco California, the impact of ‘gamification’ lead to significant increase of energy use in the below-average energy use participants. See (Schultz, et al. “The Constructive, Destructive, and Reconstructive Power of Social Norms.” Psychological Science18 (2007): 429–34.)
But how can we use gamification or games for energy efficiency ?
Well there is no simple answer, it depends on the behaviors being tackled, the mode and context. But if the answer doesn’t include ‘utility’, ‘collective action’ or ‘social norms’ – and instead includes words like ‘competition’, ‘engagement’ and ‘reward’ without a sound behavioural science ground, you’re far more likely to fail!
Here’s some practical ways to engage users using ICT/Technologies :
- Use the highest level of metering you can afford – likely to provide more information to users on the impact of their actions, and is perhaps more clearly and fairly attributable to the relevant individual or group
- Make feedback visible for all monitored units – this creates awareness of others engaging and to influence social norming
- Use emoticons – or other techniques in addition to energy readings, to reinforce behavioural changes as positive or negative
- Use financial incentives, such as rebates or discounts where possible – evidence suggests those with lower income are more likely to respond to financial or cost incentives
- Competitions and rivalry are good motivators – prizes are an added incentive
- Take time to understand why your target audience behave as they do – this is necessary to exploring ways to get them to behave differently (you may wish to checkout Intervention Mapping techniques see : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intervention_mapping
- Educate the target audience in power management functionality
- Make sustainable behaviour fun – consider using games and other fun activities
- Use social media – take advantage of existing virtual communities and create new ones for your target market
- Involve celebrities as role models – organise social champions to promote engagement
- Organise campaigns that cover the entire year, not just a one shot.
- Consider synergies with events and social activities relevant to the target audience
- Monitor building occupant behaviour where applicable to inform building management systems settings
At PlayGen we have been developing games and gamification for behaviour change for over a decade, if you’re looking for a scientific approach without the marketing psychobabble give us a shout!