By Litta

Some people would say one of the primary characteristics of a game is that it has to be fun. So how can we make it fun and engaging for young people to adopt sustainable behaviours?


Some people would say one of the primary characteristics of a game is that it has to be fun.

Imagine you wanted to record the number of pot holes on the streets of the UK (doesn’t sound like fun does it). One way you could do this is walk up and down every street and record each one you see. The problem with this is it would take you forever. But what if you could recruit other people to help you? Say one person on each street in England (there are 790,000 streets in the UK). You could then potentially collect all of that information in ONE day. How amazing would that be.


Why, though, would anyone help you to do that?

This is where gamification comes in, turning something that might ordinarily be boring or unengaging into something that is fun ie a game.

You might get some people to help you map your potholes for the intrinsic value provided. They are doing it because they know you need help and helping you will make them feel good and they derive enjoyment from that.

Some people might do it for the extrinsic value. You might pay them to do it or they know that by doing it the road will be fixed and they will benefit.

Both an intrinsic and extrinsic motivation can be leveraged through gamification and by appealing to both you are more likely to attract a bigger crowd.

Gamification helps to take what might be an ambiguous potential long-term impact and instead converts that into a shorter-term individual benefit making it a lot easier for individuals to assess how it will affect them personally. They might be able to win a prize, advance to another level, beat a friend or stranger or simply just have fun.

A number of companies already do this really well.

Strava have gamified fitness. Take a long-term goal of getting fit or losing weight and break that down into smaller daily competitions against people you’ve never met. People don’t work out and get fitter because they think they might be helping to reduce stress on the NHS in the long run, they have a clear shorter term personal incentive attached to it; looking and feeling better and having fun.

Duolingo have gamified language learning. Take the long term goal of trying to learn a language (and anyone who has tried learning a language knows how far off being fluent seems when you start out) and turning that into shorter term goals of reaching new levels and earning badges.


So What – “Citizen Science”

We now have more power in the palm of our hands than at any other time in history. The common phrase thrown around about mobile phones having more computing capacity than the computers that put the first man on the moon comes to mind.

But what is all that power doing most of the time?

Citizen science is not a new phenomenon, with citizens in ancient china helping to track migratory locusts for over 2000 years. It’s also previously been used to help monitor air pollution in Belgium and radiation levels in Japan, collect information on plants and animals and record stagnant water levels.

Within the principles of citizen science, which aim to lay out how and what it involves, a key component is the need for there to be a benefit for both the citizens taking part and the scientists conducting the research. Both citizens and scientists (through helping to answer specific research questions) need to benefit from the citizen scientist’s involvement. That could be having fun or winning prizes on the citizen side, and increased data collection on the scientist’s side.

As you can imagine there are numerous issues where citizen science could come in useful. These citizen scientists are normally recruited for projects that require a large number of data points that an individual would not be able to collect by themselves in a timely and costly manner (potholes anyone?). However, you could argue that people that take part as citizen scientists are mainly motivated by intrinsic values; they are helping because they want to feel good or they derive personal enjoyment without there being any external pressure or reward to do so.

Can the use of gamification therefore be used to help attract a whole new breed of people to the world of citizen science, those who are motivated by extrinsic as well as intrinsic values, and if we can attract this audience how many pressing challenges or questions can we help to solve/answer.


Now What – Turn mobile gamers into citizen scientists.

Applying gamification to citizen science could help to attract and leverage the power of the gaming community to help achieve social and environmental challenges.

With mobile phones being ubiquitous around the world, and with the size of the gaming community almost dwarfing that of any other community (the UN estimates the global gaming community at 2.7 billion), applying gamification to different, normally time consuming or mundane issues could help to collect the data we need to start making an impact.

One of these time consuming and mundane issues is litter. So common place here in the UK that it blends into the background, an expected sight on every street, we walk past it every day and tend to ignore it. Litter is also a good example of something that, due to the vastness of it, would be almost impossible as an individual to collect any significant data on.

The ability of individuals to forecast future social and environmental benefit from what is perceived to be a small act (picking up litter) is poor and there are clear individual differences in this ability (likewise forecasting future social and environmental impacts of dropping litter). By attaching a clear personal incentive to helping to reduce litter, through utilising gamification and making it fun, individuals will be able to see and feel the impact it has on them in the short term, making it easier to engage them and help to change their behaviour.

Our own, albeit rather small survey, showed that 77% of gamers would be more willing to play a mobile game if it had a social or environmental benefit.

Can we build a gamified infrastructure that will engage lots of different people (citizen scientists) and allow others to tap into the power of this gaming community to collect data and change behaviour?

That’s what we are trying to achieve here at Litta.