Green Gaming.

by PM Davies

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A lot of what we talk about on here describes various ways of changing people’s behaviour. In advertising the behaviour change is to get you to buy their product, or switch from a rival brand to their product, or to love their product enough that you’ll become an advocate for getting other to change their behaviour (this might be familiar if you’ve ever sat in a bar with an Apple fan). In this section of the magazine we like to look at how these techniques can be used for better purposes, and this time we look at how gamification is being used to help people change their energy use.

Most people would not argue that conserving the energy we use is a good thing. However, the reality is that saving and being prudent is dull. It’s just not something that gets most of us excited. We know it’s better for the world and it will actually save us money too. Logically it make perfect sense but emotionally it’s very hard to motivate yourself.

Mechanically our brains handle this conflicting data in very different ways. Our logic and reasoning takes place in the most modern part of our brain, the pre-frontal cortex (the grey matter that Mr Poirot is so fond of), but our emotions come from an older part of the brain, the mid-brain. Whilst we are one entity, the parts of our brain act independently with the cortex handling the rational decisions and the mid-brain responsible for our emotions. If you have ever experienced really wanting to buy something even though you know you can’t really afford it then you have felt the battle between the two areas of your brain. Advertisers know that the emotional brain will influence your behaviour more than the rational part of the brain and play to this, after all that’s why a Happy Meal is not just called ‘a smaller meal for children’). For more on emotional advertising you can read Neuromarketing’s blog post on the subject.

So how can you make saving energy fun and engaging for our emotional brain? Well, some have looked to ‘gamification’ for the answer.

The Wattson energy monitor
Energy monitors are a perfect example of a product that plays on the rational. If we can see how much energy we are using then we will consider our energy efficiency and do our best to cut down. Perfectly logical, except that it doesn’t work. Everyone I know has one, used it for a month or so and it now sits idle in the corner of the room. Now on the face of it the Wattson energy monitor, designed by DIY Kyoto, is no different. OK, it does look a lot nicer but it still just tells you how much energy you are using (data that plays to our rational brain). However, it’s the software that comes with it (ingeniously called Holmes) which uses an element of game mechanics which makes it interesting.

The Holmes software allows you to link to other Wattson owners to compare your energy use. Much like the energy bills from OPOWER mentioned in a previous ¡DT! article this awakens our competitive streak and the need to do better than the Jones’s. Would you save more energy and strive for lower bills if you felt your neighbours were doing better than you?

Energy Monitor iPhone App
There are now lots of iPhone apps which let you see your home energy data. However, I came across a lovely little iPhone app which is a little braver and asks you to take part in energy challenges. Segmented into energy sections such as ‘Space Heating’, ‘Lighting’ and ‘Transport’ it asks you to take steps to being more energy efficient. Tasks such as:

Turn the heating in living areas down to 20ºC, hallways and bedrooms should be cooler – ideally 15-18ºC.

Tick that particular task off within the app to increase your personal energy score. Once you have passed a certain level it opens up a quiz which you can take for more credits. OK, the quiz is a little more like a test than a fun thing to do but I like that this is starting to play a little more to the notion of having fun whilst doing good.

Note: I haven’t included a link as since it seems to have disappeared from my phone and also from the app store. If you find it, do please let me know.

WWF 60+ App
The World Wildlife Fund have taken the idea of gamifying for change even further. Made to promote and enhance Earth Hour, the app asks people to sign-up to pledges to do their bit for the planet. The app presents you with a set of acts that you try to complete with the idea of tring to increase your achievements. It encourages you to share these achievements with your social network friends to help bring a healthy dose of competition and you collect badges as you go along.

The app was developed by Leo Burnett and you can see how they were influenced by the social-location services such as Foursquare and Gowalla. You can still download the app from the App Store to take part in Earth Hour 2012 on 31st March.

Our Green Trail
Finally, Our Green Trail was a project developed for the Boston Children’s Museum by Nina Simon and colleagues. The website invited people to create their own green home within an online environment. The challenge is to improve your home in the game and turn it into a truly green abode. However, you don’t carry out these improvements by interacting online but instead by carrying out activities in the real world, around your own home. Like the WWF 60+ app you are encouraged to take action with challenges such as:

Be a kitchen energy monitor
Be a kitchen energy monitor for the week and remind grown-ups to put a lid on it! This uses energy more efficiently. Also remember to use burners and pots that are the same size. Burners that are too large for the pot waste energy because all the heat that should be going to a pan is instead going into the air. (Estimated Time: 15-20 mins)

The site has all the mechanics that define gamification; challenges, award points, sharing, levelling-up, competition and uses them in a really enjoyable way. A lovely touch is that not only can you recruit other families to create a whole village within the website but you can then share your energy ideas and work together to make it a communal and fun experience. You can read more about this project and others from Nina Simon in her wonderful book ‘The Participatory Museum’ which you can read for free on her website.


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