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Engineering Sustainable Change

Gamification: The Next Frontier in Sustainability?

By: Becca Stock

I have a confession to make, I am a gamer. Let me stop you before you before you picture a 20-something college dropout living in his parent’s basement only emerging for Doritos and Mountain Dew. I do not fit this gamer stereotype, and I am not alone. Console and computer games are becoming more and more pervasive with over 60% of US households having at least 1 person who games 3 or more hours per week. The average age of gamers has risen to 35 in 2016 and the gender gap is closing with 41% of gamers being female.[1] With the number of gamers growing steadily, using games as a platform for innovative problem solving is on the rise as well.

There is a famous example where gamers playing a collaborative online puzzle game, Foldit, figured out the folding pattern for an enzyme integral to the spread of an AIDS-like, rhesus monkey virus in less than 10 days. The scientists that developed the game had been trying to understand the structure of this protein for 13 years.[2] For some people, this result may be surprising. When I read the article, I thought, “Yep. That’s about right.”

Presenting the problem in the form of a competitive puzzle game allowed the players to approach the problem differently – plus there was the added benefit of 57,000 minds collaborating. If you spend 4 hours at work fighting with a problem, often you leave frustrated and tired. As a gamer, I can easily try and retry a challenge for hours…on the weekend…for fun. It is this cognitive shift that allowed Foldit players to identify key protein folding patterns that had eluded scientists for years.

Water Manager – Table Top Water Management Training

What if we could find a way to frame other difficult problems in the same way? There are some early adopters. Police forces and emergency rooms are using gaming and virtual reality to teach problem solving skills before lives are on the line. Crisis response and management personnel have used table top games at conferences to demonstrate the inherent tradeoffs in the difficult decisions required during an emergency and to facilitate discussion about the most effective approaches.

Augmented Reality Police Training

For me, there is no problem more complex than climate change. Can we find a way to use games to frame this complicated problem? What about gaming to address all the nuances and tradeoffs inherent to sustainability and climate action planning? With the right game framework, could new and innovative approaches to addressing the complex problems of carbon-neutrality be discovered? At Brendle Group, we think that a community’s Climate Action Plan is only as good as its real-world impact. To develop plans that are locally relevant, feasible, and impactful we are constantly looking for new ways to engage stakeholders in goal setting and strategy development. Through recent innovation and brainstorming sessions, Brendle Group is exploring ways that gaming might be used to facilitate discussions that address the challenges and trade-offs of  any number of situations. I am excited to see how this application of gaming continues to develop and what unique strategies arise from this approach.

[1] http://essentialfacts.theesa.com/Essential-Facts-2016.pdf

[2] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2039012/AIDS-cure-Gamers-solve-puzzle-stumped-scientists-years.html

About the Author – Becca has a strong background in energy efficiency measures for industrial customers though her experience at the Colorado State University Industrial Assessment Center. Also, she has been involved in researching and designing a commercial refrigeration heat recovery system that successfully brought industrial energy efficiency principles to a small commercial scale. At Brendle group, she employs her expertise to assess and quantify energy efficiency opportunities for commercial and institutional customers. She also applies energy efficiency principles on a larger scale for climate action planning, greenhouse gas accounting, and community energy planning as well as analysis of renewable energy feasibility across these projects.

Outside of Brendle Group, Becca puts her degree in Zoology to work volunteering at a local wildlife rehabilitation center.

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This entry was posted on June 27, 2017 by in Climate and tagged , , , , , , , , .

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