This Quarter in Play: How Does Gamification Relate to Sustainable Consumption?

Do you check your steps on your cellphone’s in-built health app and feel great when realizing you met the daily goal? Do you smile when your energy bill comes with a colorful graph showing your consumption is lower than the year before, and you’re doing better than your neighbors? Do you feel compelled to slow down if the speed measuring screen on the street shows you a red, sad face? Are your airline miles (points) a factor to prefer a particular airline over another because you can increase your mileage and enjoy special perks?

The list of examples can go on and on… just to happily announce: congratulations, you have an official first-hand experience with gamification!

Broadly understood as taking game elements and applying them to non-game settings, using playful, motivating experiences to daily-life tasks, gamification is a concept that encompasses “technological, economic, cultural, and societal developments in which reality is becoming more gameful” (Hamari, 2019). In other words, gamification offers a set of game-like elements to motivate psychological outcomes, thus leading to behavioral outcomes while making our everyday actions resemble these of games.

As a concept, the understanding of gamification emerged from the digital media industry, spearheaded by the marketing and design fields in the mid-2000s (Fuchs et al., 2014). Since then, the idea of gamification has expanded across sectors and industries, from education to health; oftentimes being simplified to the notion of “keeping track and adding points as a part of the feedback,” an idea that overlooks the way that sociology and psychology of game enjoyment translate into other fields (Deterding, 2013). Gamification has also undergone severe criticism (i.e., Bogost, 2011), and gamification scholars are continuously proposing various methods to design these playful experiences, including diverse toolboxes and implementation processes (Zichermann & Cunningham, 2011; Fizek, 2014; Deterding, 2015; Morschheuser et al., 2017).

As a research discipline, gamification is an umbrella concept under which a myriad of related sub-concepts differ on objectives and areas of application. Some of these connect directly to human needs, such as the right to play in the city; others look into how games help to achieve other purposes than entertainment or fun, such as serious games, or game-based learning, a process that uses games to generate new knowledge. Other sub-concepts look into the motivational aspects of gamification, and that’s where we find “persuasive design” that intends to help users change their behaviors in the real world based on what they experienced in the game-realm; or even “persuasive technologies” which are human-assisted computational approaches that may range from scientific crowdsourcing to the application of wearable and interactive technologies that push the boundaries of how we perceive consumption and inviting us to rethink our perceptions of ownership (i.e. The Fabricant).

Gamification and sustainable consumption are inherently related, as the earlier addresses some of the barriers faced by traditional, 1-way communication efforts to engage and motivate citizens to shift their consumption practices. Depending on their design, gamified approaches can tap into the gap between knowledge and action; it enables the user to feel connected to the process at hand and do something about it. These connections can be behavioral, affective, and cognitive (Lorenzoni et al., 2007) and, as many of the existing gamified solutions for the energy and health sectors show, can drive tangible shifts in the user (player) consumption choices and habits.

As the research on gamified sustainable consumption is still in its infancy (Guillen et al., 2021), the purpose of this blog is to introduce a hands-on understanding of gamification and its multiple domains as an opportunity to strengthen our efforts towards making sustainable consumption possible (while being an enjoyable transition). The content showcases ongoing gamification research with examples and reflections to invite an open, constructive dialogue about the opportunities and challenges of gamifying sustainable consumption and, ultimately, how our every day is increasingly resembling game dynamics (which is one of the upcoming topics).

About the author
Georgina Guillen (Ginnie) has devoted the last twenty-something years of her life to the ambition of making sustainable development happen. After crafting and implementing projects for the private and non-for-profit sectors, she is currently exploring the fascinating world of gamification as a member of the prestigious Gamification Group at Tampere University (Finland), facilitating the creation and exchange of knowledge between the disciplines of Gamification and Sustainable Consumption.

REFERENCES

Bogost, I. (2011). Gamification is bullshit. bogost.com/writing/blog/gamification_is_bullshit/

Deterding, S. (2013). Modes of Play: A Frame Analytic Account of Video Game Play. Doi: 10.13140/RG.2.1.3411.8488

Deterding, S. (2015). The Lens of Intrinsic Skill Atoms: A Method for Gameful Design, Human–Computer Interaction, 30:3-4, 294-335

Fizek, S. (2014). Why Fun Matters: In Search of Emergent Playful Experiences. Fuchs, M., Fizek, S., Ruffino, P., & Schrape, N. (eds) Rethinking gamification. Lüneburg : Meson Press: 273 – 288

Fuchs, M., Fizek, S., Ruffino, P., & Schrape, N. (2014). Rethinking gamification. Lüneburg : Meson Press

Guillen, G., Hamari, J., & Quist, J. (2021). Gamification of Sustainable Consumption: a systematic literature review. In Proceedings of 54th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences, Hawaii, January 5-8, 2021.

Hamari, J. Gamification. In G. Ritzer & C. Rojek (Eds.). (2019). The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology. John Wiley & Sons. New York, US.

Lorenzoni, I., Nicholson-Cole, S., & Whitmarsh, L. (2007) Barriers Perceived to Engaging with Climate Change Among the UK Public and Their Policy Implications. Global Environmental Change, 17(3-4), 445-459.

Morschheuser, B. (2017). The Gamification of Crowdsourcing Systems: Empirical Investigations and Design. Karlsruhe Institute of Technology.

The Fabricant. www.thefabricant.com

Zichermann, G., & Cunningham, C. (2011). Gamification by Design: Implementing Game Mechanics in Web and Mobile Apps. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly Media.