University of Tasmania
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Energy explorer : a theory-informed design for a serious game with the purpose of promoting energy conservation behaviours

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posted on 2023-05-28, 08:32 authored by Wells, LF
Games for Change have been developed to leverage the motivational power of video games in a wide range of areas such as education, training, therapy, and scientific discovery. Whilst positive results have been seen, this work identifies a number of significant limitations to the current approach to Games for Change. Too often there is a reliance on a one size fits all‚ÄövÑvp solution of points, badges, and leaderboards, and a lack of psychological theory in the design of the games. These limitations stand to curb the effectiveness of such games, as such game elements may have a harmful effect on player motivation. A more robust design informed by theory may be more likely to effectively bring about behaviour change. Focussing on the application domain of energy conservation, this work contributes a novel method of applying behaviour change theory to the design of a Serious Game. Specifically, this project aims to answer the question: What are the opportunities and challenges in integrating both game design and behaviour change techniques towards the development of a Serious Game for changing residential energy behaviour? Though previous Games for Change have addressed energy conservation, they have not capitalised upon contemporary psychological theory to maximise and solidify change. In response, this work is explicitly grounded in the Intervention Research methodology of Thomas & Rothman (1994). Within this wider methodology, a set of Behaviour Change Techniques (BCTs) were identified through a systematic method of designing interventions known as the Behaviour Change Wheel (Michie et al. 2014)‚ÄövÑvÆa process which has never before been applied to the area of video games. This study then contributes a novel linking of these BCTs with game elements from literature and popular mobile games. To understand the nuances and practicalities of implementing this approach, a real-world case-study implementation was developed. Using a Human-Centered Design approach (Holloway & Kurniawan 2010), and the extension of the Behaviour Change Wheel, this work presents a new design of a Serious Game (Energy Explorer) which consists of theory-informed game elements. The game responds directly (in terms of game environment and player resources) to the player's actual energy consumption. Further, core game elements such as quests, exploration, and social features all react to energy consumption behaviour. A pilot phase with subject matter experts resulted in an improved version of the game, and the impact of the developed Serious Game was tested using a pre-test/post-test control group design, including analysis of energy consumption, game metrics, and player feedback surveys. A small but significant difference in change in conservation effect 14 days pre-test and 14 days post-test was observed between the control and intervention groups (\\(U\\) = 1567, \\(n\\)\\(_{control}\\) = 128, \\(n\\)\\(_{intervention}\\) = 19, \\(M\\)\\(_{control}\\) = 0.234, \\(M\\)\\(_{intervention}\\) = ‚Äöv†v¿0.043, p = 0.043). On the first day playing the game, a greater conservation effect was observed in females as opposed to males (\\(U\\) = 18, \\(n\\)\\(_{female}\\) = 9, \\(n\\)\\(_{male}\\) = 10, \\(M\\)\\(_{female}\\) = ‚Äöv†v¿0.076, \\(M\\)\\(_{male}\\) = 0.114, p = 0.030). A key result is an empirical assessment of critical factors for the successful design and deployment of a Serious Game that effectively integrates theory-driven BCTs in the energy conservation space. This work presents an in-depth discussion of the challenges involved in the design and implementation phases of the project such that future researchers can utilise the lessons learned herein and avoid the issues that have been identified. Areas for future work in the body of knowledge around game elements, and behaviour change techniques are presented. Also covered is the issue of the participant group already being energy conscious and familiar with video games. Potential problems with access to smart meter data, the mobile platform, and delivering an appropriate amount of entertainment in the game are discussed, and the need for participatory design in the methodology was identified. Finally, a summary of the challenges and the identified recommendations to mitigate these issues is provided. This thesis describes the opportunities and challenges of actioning robust behaviour change techniques through theory-informed game elements in a Serious Game and how meaningful change can be delivered in the energy conservation space.


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