Can gaming influence human behaviour?

To address the energy transition holistically, the infrastructure industry needs to broaden its focus to include big ideas when it comes to changing energy consumption at the human level, say Stantec’s Sade Akindele and Gerben Spies

Sade Akindele and Gerben Spies
20 July 2022

When it comes to the energy transition, we need big ideas. 

And in the last few years we’ve seen the emergence of plenty of them, from pumped storage and biogas to hydrogen, and even the potential of nuclear fusion. 

Most of these ideas have related to energy production and trying to power the world with clean, sustainable energy. 

But perhaps we need to broaden our focus to include big ideas when it comes to energy consumption at the human level. 

More specifically, how we as individual citizens can we make decisions which alter our behaviour – and encourage others to do the same – when it comes to consuming energy. 

So, what is the next big idea that can drive serious impact towards the energy transition? Serious gaming.

The primary intent of serious games is not to entertain – although that’s a bonus – but rather to learn, think and act. 

Like the old school flight simulators from the 80s. Fun? Certainly. But more than that, they helped teach aspiring pilots how to fly. 

From digital twins to fly-through videos, virtual reality, augmented reality, we’ve seen a range of visualisation technologies help us make decisions as we experience our current or future situations. 

The Financial Times’ latest online game, Can You Reach Net Zero By 2050, saw us sharing the link around our communities to get us thinking.

We’ve been applying the concept of serious gaming to the energy transition, using clever participation techniques that aim to help community members understand their individual influence. 

This approach can help drive behaviour change from the bottom up, and arm people with the knowledge to make small yet positive changes in their daily lives. And with public buy-in, this can collectively lead to big impact. 

Serious gaming and the energy transition

Our gaming approach was started by an energy consultancy firm in the Netherlands, Driven by Values, that Stantec acquired in 2021. 

The games were devised to clarify complexity for local municipalities as they navigate the energy transition, and to activate people – young and old – to better understand impending changes and realise how they may play an impactful role. 

Tackling the energy transition will require a three-pronged approach:

While it is largely agreed that much of the needed technology is already available and policies are rapidly being installed around the world, the question of behavioural change remains uncertain.

How will technology and policy be adapted on a societal level? How will these effect the choices and habits of individuals? 

What are serious games helping people learn?

The gaming approach has proven to be an impact-driving tool that can engage people from a wide range of demographics, including industry decisionmakers and schools, company sustainability programme managers and even entire neighbourhoods, towards action. 

By gaming with experienced experts on hand, participants can better understand how to use their personal spheres of influence to bring forward positive outcomes around the energy transition.

What sort of serious games work?

Our suite of games has been successfully played with a number of clients across The Netherlands. 

Climate Competition: This month-long climate challenge offers weekly assignments for small actions that participants can take to contribute to the climate challenge. 

The task-oriented challenge was designed to create awareness and raise understanding of the urgency of climate change – from insights to impact – to help staff, colleagues, or residents become more climate conscious. 

Through interactive online or in-person tasks, groups of all sizes can participate, bringing a gaming element to efforts while addressing topics such as saving energy at home, sustainable mobility, or circular economy.

Unlock the Volt: This virtual escape room walks participants through a variety of puzzles relating to climate change, from heat transition to generation of sustainable energy. The online escape room focuses on climate change and was developed with escape room professionals. 

In Unlock the Volt, participants get a glimpse of a household in 2058. They work in teams to escape from room to room by finding puzzle solutions related to climate and energy efficiency. An innovative and fun team-building tool for all ages, it helps raise awareness about local energy transition, improve teambuilding and public participation, and clarify the needs of a community. 

Climate Chase Game: This uses a large format ground map, bespoke to the community they are working with, to provides a good overview of the spatial impact of the energy transition. 

This allows the unique needs of the community in question to be addressed and solved. It has been designed for city councils, municipal leadership, and resident representation to make the energy transition tangible. 

Using an actual map of the municipality or region, participants literally lay out possibilities for energy creation or saving, allowing them to analyse objectives, challenges, and opportunities for the municipality and give light to which direction to take. 

By leveraging such tools, it’s possible to help move the energy transition from what can seem to be obscure and daunting challenge to an engaging – or even fun – experience that includes new voices and actions into the conversation. 

To accelerate our awareness about sustainability, we have to make challenges comprehensible, achievable and relatable – and bringing in serious gaming tactics brings us that much closer to the communities we’re trying to influence. 

Sade Akindele is sustainability consultant at Stantec UK, and Gerben Spies is project manager at Stantec The Netherlands.

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