Turning Energy Savings Into a Game Could Pay Off, New Study Shows

Environmentalists have found that preaching at Americans to cut down on their energy usage has been largely ineffective in achieving widespread energy conservation. But now, energy companies and utilities are trying a surprising new approach, according to a report from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy: games.

What might be even more surprising to some is that a gamified educational approach looks to be effective.

“Gamification turns a real-world activity into a game to make people more likely to do it,” the report’s authors explain. “Preliminary evidence indicates that gamified energy efficiency programs can achieve savings of 3–6% among a sizable number of participants.”

The new report, released Feb. 11, describes and analyzes gamified energy programs, most of which have only come on the scene in the past five years, looking at how these programs are created and why they appeal to consumers.

Gamification, it should be noted, isn’t equivalent to video game creation. The primary purpose of video games, as the authors point out, is fun. The primary purpose of a gamified program, however, is to prompt certain actions in the players’ real, day-to-day lives.

What do these games actually look like? The structure varies, but the key characteristics are that they pull information from the real world and have the users manage certain energy-related tasks in the digital world. One game, Power House, even tracks real-world energy information from the user’s meter and utility company and gives in-game “upgrade bucks” for reduced usage.

Some games connect to social media, allowing networking with the gamer’s real-world friends.

The report suggests that games can serve as training wheels, guiding and motivating people until they recognize the intrinsic value of energy savings in the real world and no longer need the entertainment factor to engage with the issue.

The full report is authored by Frederick Grossberg, Mariel Wolfson, Susan Mazur-Stommen, Kate Farley and Steven Nadel, and is available for download online.

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