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Climate Change? There's a Game For That

By CCA LiveE

The following post is part of the course work for “Live Exchange” the foundational course on communication for The MBA Design Strategy Program at California College of the Arts. The rest of the posts are presented here.

By Shana Fong

Do you believe games can help save the world? Al Gore seems to think so. So does Jane McGonigal, a world-renowned game designer and one of the movement’s leading thinkers. McGonigal states that we need to spend 21 billion hours playing games every week to solve the world’s most pressing problems, such as hunger, poverty, obesity, and climate change.

Gaming for Good is a recent example of this burgeoning movement. A recent collaboration between PSFK and Gore’s Climate Reality Project, Gaming for Good put out a call to action in the creative community to solve the unsolvable – by designing concepts that use game mechanics to promote education, awareness, and behavior shifts that positively affect climate change.

The competition was inspired and informed by PSFK’s latest trends research report Future of Gaming.  I spoke with Scott Lachut, Director of Consulting for PSFK, to get his perspective on how games can help save the world, and what we need to do to get there.

Game-changing mechanics

According to Lachut, climate change is “not going to be solved by changing behavior for a week, a month, or a year. It has to become engrained in a more permanent fashion.” And because games keep people engaged, using game mechanics effectively can motivate people to action and lead to real, lasting results.

For inspiration and impetus on how change makers at all levels can create products and services with positive outcomes, utilize the following list of tried-and-true gaming dynamics.

1.    Inspire with incentives

The easiest way to use game mechanics is by giving perks to your players. Any good game reinforces desired behavior with rewards – and the best ones let people redeem points for real prizes. 

2.    Sway with playability

If your game is too easy, people will get bored. To encourage ongoing education, Lachut states that games should be “designed to continually keep you engaged and challenged.” Tracking progress is a huge part of keeping players motivated. 

3.    Persuade with peer pressure

“Keeping up with the Joneses inspires people to buy bigger cars,” says Lachut. “But how might that change when you make home energy usage visible to the entire neighborhood?” Capitalize on peer pressure by exposing embarrassment or pride - about the size of the Jones’ carbon footprint, for example. 

4.    Sustain with status

According to Lachut, “the more sustainable aspects of gaming connect to social elements.” A good way to utilize social status is by giving plum rewards, such as exclusive access to content or events, to people that earn higher rankings in the game.

5.    Appease with ease

For the best results, keep your game simple and relevant. “Smart game designers understand how they can fit into people’s lives and latch onto the things about which people already care,” advises Lachut. Games that can be incorporated seamlessly into daily life have a much higher chance of affecting change on an individual basis, as well as on a community or societal level.

6.    Validate with vision

Aggregating achievements over time helps people make informed decisions and understand their impact in the long run. The same holds true when showcasing the big picture on a societal or cultural level – you can help entire organizations, cities, and even countries make better decisions.

Want more inspiration?

Check out these organizations and products that utilize game mechanics to achieve real, positive results:

Fold.it: a community of everyday people identified a protein that aided in HIV drug research. It had evaded researchers and doctors for years and after building a game around it, the puzzle was solved within weeks.

Recyclebank: over three million members rack up points through energy education and behavior changes, then redeem them for real rewards.

Changers: a solar-powered charger that saves electricity while tracking your progress and automatically shares your savings with your social networks, earning you bragging rights.

View the winning Gaming for Good concepts as chosen by the Climate Reality Project here on PSFK.



Shana Fong is an MBA in Design Strategy student at California College of the Arts. She recently worked as Marketing Manager at Recurve, a cleantech software startup, and is currently PR & Marketing Manager at Rdio, a social music discovery service. Follow her journey as a budding design strategist on Twitter at @shanafong.

These articles were created as part of the course work for “Live Exchange” the foundational course on communication for <a href="https://www.triplepundit.com/category/cca-livee/">The MBA Design Strategy Program at California College of the Arts</a>. <a href="https://www.triplepundit.com/category/cca-livee/">Read more about the project here</a>.

Read more stories by CCA LiveE