University of Washington Campus Sustainability Challenge: Feasibility and Design

Executive Summary:

It is estimated that more than 1.2 billion people around the world play games worldwide; in the US 49% of people play games using consoles, websites, or portable devices (Duggan 2015). Games can be used for many purposes other than profit, however, and organizations like Games for Change ( and UW’s own Earthgames ( support development of games for purposes of education, awareness, and social change (Mitchel and Savill-Smith 2004, Baranowski et al. 2008, Thompson 2012). If well designed, games can translate to real-world knowledge and behavior change. For example, the Facebook game “Half the Sky” has attracted more than 1.3 million players who – by playing – have generated $500K in donations toward alleviating oppression for women and girls around the world (Dasgupta et al. 2012).

Our project assesses feasibility and design for games to encourage sustainable actions by students throughout their tenure at UW. The project will accomplish four objectives: 1) review of existing environmental games or challenges, 2) hold a "Game Jam" to engage students and staff across campus in creating multiple game prototypes, 3) conduct an online student survey to gain feedback on sustainability concerns and technology/gaming use, and 4) create a formal business plan to develop and implement a final game design in a future project.

The environmental problem we seek to address is how to engage with large numbers of individuals to take actions that reduce use of resources and improve their knowledge and actions related to sustainability and conservation. We believe that web or app-based games have a unique and enormous potential to help address this need across diverse demographics. Games offer an efficient package to present information; they are also interactive and fun, offering an alternative to a “doom-and-gloom” approach that can lead to apathy for conservation and sustainability.

The proposed total cost for the project is $6,868.00, and would entail working with multiple departments and campus services. We would work closely with UW Sustainability to incorporate existing sustainability and education efforts. We have consulted with First Year Programs about the project and made a plan to keep them apprised of progress, but determined that Housing and Food Services (ie, residence hall programs and leadership) may be a better avenue for a game to reach a large number of incoming students. We would seek to work closely with and gain considerable feedback from them as part of a feasibility study. The School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences (SAFS) has agreed to physically host the Game Jam and provide financial management.

Our project team is a Research Scientist (SAFS) and two graduate students (Quantitative Ecology and Resource Management Program, Communications Program) who have substantial experience in research, innovative science communication, art, project management and environmental game development. All three project leads are part of EarthGames at UW, which supports students in developing environmentally-based games.

Student Involvement:

This project team includes two graduate students, who will help implement all of the major project components including the comprehensive literature and gaming review (Table 1), organizing and holding the Game Jam, creating a student survey, and creation of the final formal business plan.

The Game Jam will be an opportunity for substantial student involvement. Our target for participation in the Game Jam is 5 teams (18-20 students); we anticipate some faculty or staff will participate as well. We will also recruit 8 students (not Game Jam participants) as panelists to judge entries. The Game Jam will be held over a weekend. Students are matched to form teams that (ideally) have diverse skills and experiences; teams work together over the weekend to design a gaming app around the theme of engaging and encouraging students to adopt specific actions that reduce use of campus resources and/or introduce students to campus sustainability information. We will ask teams to include incentives that students can earn into their game design, and provide a list of possible incentives that have been used by campus programs in the past with success (e.g., custom buttons, patches, t-shirts, food or coffee). Although not required, we will encourage teams to consider using existing UW Sustainability information and resources in game designs; these include features on the UW Sustainability website such as “A Century of Sustainability”, the campus sustainability map, or the “Sqwatch” mascot as a character.

Teams will be asked to develop a game design and prototype over the weekend using the skills within their group (the three project leaders will also provide technical and design support to teams as much as possible). Teams will also create a 1-2 minute video about their game (e.g., see video for the game “AdaptNation for judging by the selected student panelists, who will be asked to score games based on criteria including creativity, design, and feasibility in implementing the game at UW. An awards ceremony to distribute prizes to the first, second, and third place entries will be held the following weekend.

Lastly, we will involve a large number of students through an online survey (Qualtrics program, UW license) that we will create related to technology use, gaming, and sustainability. The goal of this portion of the project is to gather information from approximately 400 UW student respondents; in addition to being offered an incentive for completing the survey, in a thank you at the end of the survey respondents will be invited to view the videos created during the Game Jam and learn more about the feasibility study and project goals.


Education & Outreach:

As part of the review stage of the project, we will engage with the departments and campus services where a sustainability app could be broadly distributed to incoming students. These include First Year Programs (U101, Student Orientations, and Dawg Daze), Campus Sustainability, and Housing and Food Services. We have already had preliminary meetings with First Year Programs and Campus Sustainability to discuss distribution options and existing sustainability education efforts that could be incorporated into a game; these initial contacts would be followed up in more depth, and also initiated with Housing and Food Services. Our goals in collaborating with these campus services is to understand the dominant sustainability challenges at UW (for emphasis in a gaming app) and decide on the most effective way to reach a broad and large audience of incoming students.

For the Game Jam, our goal is to create student teams with diverse experience and interests including research, computing, design, sustainability, and communication, and we will promote the event broadly. We have identified the following student groups and campus associations to invite to participate in a Game Jam: Engage Science Speakers, ComSciCom Pacific Northwest, Earthgames, the Center for Game Science (student listserve), Human Centered Design and Engineering (student listserve), the College of the Environment (student listserve), UW Green Teams, UW Sustainability Facebook Group, and all of the environmental student groups currently operating at UW ( We will promote the event by emailing these groups and/or posting to listserves about the Game Jam, as well as creating posters for distribution across campus (e.g., HUB). Students who participate will have the opportunity to be recognized by the community at the end of the Game Jam for their work, but can also use this as a resume-building opportunity if needed since teams produce a game prototype. We will request feature story coverage of the Game Jam and winning teams by UW Today and UW Daily via a press release prior to the Game Jam. If this is not successful, we will write a blog post about the event for distribution on the Earthgames website, and promote the blog post on social media (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook).

The student survey will be a way to gather information, but also to inform students about the project and potential for use of gaming in sustainability and conservation efforts. The student questionnaire will be designed using the program Qualtrics, for which UW has a license (the questionnaire will be open to anyone but students will have to enter a email address to be eligible for the gift card drawing). The questionnaire will survey students by asking what environmental issues are of most importance to them, how they prefer to engage with environmental issues, and their current preferences and use of gaming and apps. We will gain feedback on a draft of the survey from UW Sustainability, and approval from Human Subjects Division before implementing the final survey. Respondents will be thanked (and informed about the results of the drawing) one week after the survey has closed; in that thank you we will include additional information about the feasibility study and a link to the Vimeo channel with the Game Jam videos. Our team has experience using Qualtrics to conduct multiple surveys where results have been published in peer-reviewed publications (Mims et al. 2016, Kuehne et al. 2016); we expect that an open survey distributed to UW students with a gift card drawing incentive will generate at least 400 responses, and this is our goal. We will distribute the survey through the same channels used to recruit Game Jam participants as well as requesting approval to post flyers about the survey in all of the residence halls. On completing the survey, students will also be given a link that they can share with other students to further promote the project and survey.

Environmental Impact:
  • Environmental Justice
Project Longevity:

The feasibility study and all intended products (game prototypes and formal business plan) will be completed within the project timeline without a need for long term management and maintenance.

Environmental Problem:

More than ever, the onus is on individuals to identify and solve the sustainability challenges we face, even as solutions to environmental problems will continue to be interdisciplinary and complex. We therefore need ways to integrate technological, economic, and social expertise across all disciplines, and gather the attention and ingenuity of all people. We believe that web or app-based games have a unique and enormous potential to help address this need across diverse user groups and geographic areas.

By conducting a feasibility study for a large-scale sustainability gaming app for the UW campus, we will be synthesizing what is currently known about environmental gaming, engaging the UW community in developing potential game ideas and designs, and examining the limitations and potential of this kind of technology to improve sustainability awareness and actions. This project will not only summarize existing information and attitudes of students related to sustainability and technology, but create a formal business plan around the two best and most feasible game designs and establish a strong foundation to implement a campus-wide challenge.

Explain how the impacts will be measured:

At the stage of the feasibility study we will not have any measures of environmental impacts, but measures of outreach and education include the number of Game Jam participants (18-20), game prototypes (4-5), student panelists (8), and the number of student respondents for the survey (400).

Total amount requested from the CSF: $6,868
This funding request is a: Grant
If this is a loan, what is the estimated payback period?:


ItemCost per ItemQuantityTotal Cost
Research staff project manager$30/hr + 32.4% benefits80 hours$3,177.60
Graduate student project manager(s)$20/hr + 17.9% benefits130 hours$3,065.40
Game Jam awards$50.008$400.00
Survey participant incentives$25.006$150.00
Printing costs of signs and final productsN/AN/A$75.00

Non-CSF Sources:

VendorItemPurposeQuantityTotal Value
Aqua Verde Restaurantgift certificatesGame Jam awards2$50.00
Recycled Cyclesgift certificatesGame Jam awards2$50.00
CostcoGift certificateGame Jam foodNA$75.00
Starbucks coffeeCoffee/pastriesGame jam foodNA$60.00
Project Completion Total: $7,103


TaskTimeframeEstimated Completion Date
Literature and game review2 months9/30/2017
Recruit student participants and panelists for Game Jam1 month9/30/2017
Hold Game Jam and awards ceremony2 weeks10/31/2017
Develop student questionnaire/Human Subjects Division approval1 month10/31/2017
Questionnaire open to students, invitations and reminders3 weeks11/30/2017
Hold drawing for survey, thank respondents2 weeks12/15/2017
Synthesize all results into formal business plan for top 2 designs6 weeks1/31/2018