Call it World of Greencraft: At a recent climate change conference
at sponsored by Stanford University, Byron Reeves, a professor there, proposed an unlikely marriage of online gaming and consumer smart meters. Instead of just displaying incremental changes in energy consumption on the homeowner’s PC as raw data, what if it were incorporated into an MMOG (for those non-gamers that’s a massive multi-player online game)?
In such a game, your energy consumption in the real world would be linked to the game world — the more energy you save, the more points you get. This demo video produced for the conference demonstrates how that might work, showing different home owners competing to have the most energy-efficient house in the virtual world.
While still a hypothetical game, it’s based on real research of human behavior. As an expert in psychological processing of media, Professor Reeves has studied the high levels of engagement people invest in games like World of Warcraft, which are avidly played by tens of millions worldwide. Players feel an emotional investment in their character, which they want to improve by achieving game goals, but the biggest rewards require a team effort.
As he noted, “In Warcraft you don’t win unless your team wins.” This creates an alignment between personal goals and larger social goals, an important step when it comes to achieving real and lasting energy consumption.
Reeves said his concept has attracted interest from utility companies and the Department of Energy. Since utilities are already mandated to spend money on advertising to encourage energy conservation, he reasons, why not convey the same message in a game? The biggest challenge now is finding a game developer who can actually make the project appealing to consumers.
Disclosure: Reeve’s proof-of-concept demo video was developed on commission by virtual world marketing studio Millions of Us, formerly a sponsor of my Second Life blog.