Bringing green games to the UW campus

Executive Summary:

Over the past year, a team consisting of a researcher and students within the College of the Environment conducted a feasibility study to evaluate the potential of using games to promote more sustainable actions on campus (i.e., “green games”). The feasibility study consisted of three parts: a review of existing games, hosting a game jam, and a survey of the UW community to assess receptiveness and preferences related to green gaming. The feasibility study resulted in many positive outcomes, including development of game prototypes, creating connections in the sustainability and gaming communities (both within and outside of UW), and measuring interest and preferences related to green games.

The feasibility study identified opportunities as well as challenges related to implementing green games on campus (see Appendix for full feasibility study results). Some of the most important opportunities uncovered by the feasibility study include demonstrating substantial interest in environmentally-themed games across the UW community, demonstrating potential to create games with moderate resources, and interest from other universities in using games to promote sustainability. Leveraging these opportunities, however, will require overcoming challenges also identified in the feasibility study. One of these is skepticism, particularly about digital games, which may be seen as antithetical to sustainability issues due to interfering with time in nature, being overly monetized, or even addictive. A second – and greater – challenge for implementing games to promote sustainability is competing in the “attention economy”, which includes a large marketplace of games for the purpose of making money. Environmental games geared toward raising awareness and promoting behavior changes have to compete with a well-financed industry vying for players. Finally, we still don’t know how effective games are in terms of educating and convincing players to actually modify future behavior.

The project team has taken many of the lessons learned from the feasibility study, and proposes to conduct a pilot campus gaming project with the following three objectives:

1) Develop and test impact of games related to multiple environmental issues on campus

2) Create a flexible engagement model for green games that can be built on in future years and deployed in many different events and venues

3) Share knowledge and establish partnerships with other universities to help use green games on their campuses

Specifically, we will implement this pilot project over the course of the 2018-2019 academic year by developing games that engage students and encourage sustainable actions and thinking on four different environmental topics. The games will be deployed and promoted at six locations using mobile kiosks on campus over a six-week period (i.e., campaign), during which we will track engagement, player responses, and commitments to take on sustainability-based pledges. We will follow up with players two months following (via email) to evaluate follow-through and how impactful the gaming approach was to their learning and willingness to take positive action. In addition to the targeted campaign period, kiosks and individual games will also be used at special events, and for outreach in conjunction with project partners and stakeholders.

Student Involvement:

Student Leadership and Jobs

The project team includes three students, all of whom will play critical roles that will ultimately add substantially to their expertise, professional and leadership experience. Two undergraduate students will lead the majority of the creative game design and technical implementation, as well as assisting with all aspects of overall promotion and project management. A PhD student will consult on design of the evaluation component of the project, and gain access to research data that will support his PhD research in the process. Lastly, we will hire a student graphic designer to help with developing art assets for the games.

Student volunteers and partners

We will also pursue opportunities to involve students in the game development process (e.g., Earth Games class, Game Dev Club), beta-testing (Game Dev Club, HCDE, Earthgames), or in the gaming-impact evaluation stage (e.g., Information School or Program of the Environment capstone programs). As mentioned in the Education and Outreach section, we are planning to reach out strategically to student groups and research groups on campus working on specific environmental topics featured in the final games (i.e., water pollution, electronic waste, plastics, etc). Students in these groups would be invited to assist with helping develop game content/ideas, beta-testing, outreach, and promotion of specific games.

These efforts are in addition to strategically coordinating with specific project partners (see Stakeholders section) to reach UW students that are particularly interested in learning about or applying gaming approaches to promote sustainability.

Student participants

UW students will be able to play the games on the kiosks and can choose to receive a survey a few months later. By playing the games and completing the survey, students can both have a new experience related to sustainability as well as helping inform the process by which games can help shape environmental attitudes and behaviors. 

Education & Outreach:

The games will be distributed on campus using mobile kiosks for a period of three weeks at a time in a total of six locations (i.e., the “campaign”). The games will not only serve to educate players but will also help us to collect information about how and if games can link to changes in awareness, motivation, and behavior. The kiosks will be placed in six high-traffic areas where people may have a few minutes of leisure to spare, such as coffee shops, food court areas, and/or community living areas in residence halls. We have identified a priority list of locations (Table 1) on campus based on traffic volumes and space to place a kiosk where it will be visible but not impede normal operations, and are currently working with staff at Housing and Food Services on permission and to determine their preferences in locating kiosks. Our goal is that 400-500 players will interact with each of the three kiosks over the entire six-week period.

The exhibit will be promoted (using signage and instructions) at each site to encourage players to engage spontaneously. However, during the six-week period, we will also promote the project using flyers, emails, and newsletter posts directed at departments in close proximity to the kiosks to encourage students, staff, and faculty to look for them, as well as promoting the entire six-week “campaign” via social media and blog posts. Throughout the campaign, there will be a gentle incentive to seek out kiosks and play through games, which is the opportunity to enter a drawing for gift cards.

Although not a final list, game topics that are top candidates as the focus of game development include water pollution, electronic waste, plastics, composting, and energy use. Since the games will be focused on specific environmental issues, this will allow us to strategically reach out to student groups about “adopting” and helping to promote one or more games during the campaign. For example, two student groups on campus that work on issues of water quality that have already committed to assisting in this way for a game related to water pollution. They are the outreach group SEAS (Students Explore Aquatic Science) and UW’s Freshwater Initiative (, a graduate student collective that spearheads research and outreach related to freshwater conservation. As the game topics are finalized (summer 2018), we will reach out to other student and research groups on campus to request their “adoption” of a topical game leading up to and during the campus campaign.

In addition to the focused campaign period, we will also use the kiosks at multiple special events during the year. Planned events include UW’s Sustainability Festival and Earth Day Celebration; however, we anticipate that the kiosks will make an attractive temporary exhibit for additional special events on campus as the project progresses (e.g., opening of the new Burke Museum).  Finally, we will work strategically with project partners and stakeholders (see below) to promote the project and games to students, staff, and faculty across campus that are interested in applying gaming approaches to promote sustainability.

Campus Partners and Stakeholders

The campus unit that we will work most closely with is Housing and Food Services (HFS). We are currently working with them on locations for game kiosks at high-traffic areas with a “captive audience” (e.g., coffee shops, community living spaces in residential halls). In addition to working with HFS on optimal locations and placement of kiosks, we also wish to work closely with them to align game content to support HFS’ sustainability priorities and/or integrate with their current efforts (e.g., meeting composting goals in eating areas).

Students Expressing Environmental Dedication (SEED) are one of the most important RSOs that we will seek to work with, both to help us align the game content with sustainability efforts in residence halls and helping us create content that engages students. Although SEED is currently undergoing an annual change in leadership (see attached letter), we have worked with them as part of the feasibility study and are hopeful that the new leadership will want to continue collaborating.

The Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship (Foster School of Business) is a priority project partner, given our strong desire to engage with entrepreneurs and change-makers at UW on the topic of environmental gaming. During the feasibility study, we engaged on an ad hoc basis with staff and students at the Buerk Center and Foster School of Business who were interested in environmental gaming approaches for promoting sustainability and/or creating businesses in more sustainable ways. For this project, we will work with Buerk Center staff to schedule specific events and opportunities for knowledge exchange, incorporating the games and mobile kiosks that we’ll produce. Some of these opportunities include: sharing knowledge and expertise in green games with classes and students (e.g., making presentations), bringing gaming kiosks to events associated with the annual Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge (, or working with student teams who may want to collaborate on the gaming kiosks project.

The Center for Creative Conservation or C3 (under which Earthgames is housed) was a substantial partner during the feasibility study, helping to promote the game jam and survey. This project is an excellent fit for the mission and goals of C3, and we will again coordinate project activities with C3. We are also coordinating with leadership of Earthgames to share project resources and plan for project longevity. As with the Buerk Center, this will entail scheduling opportunities to intersect at specific points in the project timeline. Based on preliminary meetings with Earthgames leadership, this could include having students in the Earthgames class help with kiosk deployment, assist with beta-testing, and development or updating of games for future versions of the project. If we are required to purchase tablet computers for this project, our plan is to transfer ownership of these to Earthgames at the end of the pilot project to allow broader use over time by students and groups for sustainability or environmental gaming projects.

Environmental Impact:
  • Energy Use
  • Food
  • Transportation
  • Waste
  • Water
Project Longevity:

This project is designed as a pilot with careful evaluation of impact in the number of UW community members reached, success of the kiosk-based model for engagement, and success in using games to communicate and inspire people to take action around environmental issues. It is our hope that this model proves highly effective and could simply be refreshed and redone (on a much smaller budget) the following year, perhaps by creating updated games and pledges that bring focus to a different suite of environmental issues. If so, updating or creating new games for future years would be a great opportunity for a tangible project for students in the Earthgames class (we have already discussed this with Earthgames leadership). 

However, during the project, we will also be looking at and considering options to “tweak” this model for greater effectiveness. For example, if games are effective at engaging students in residence halls, we could tie this approach into setting cooperative (or competitive) goals in dorms using the floor- and dorm-specific energy and water use data dashboards ( We are already in discussions with staff at HFS about this potential; if that is the best future direction, we would request funding from HFS to implement the campaign in future years. Similarly, we are planning to work closely with SEED as this project is related to past SEED efforts (e.g., One Thing Challenge); SEED may be interested in helping to implement a future campaign using this gaming engagement model.

In short, we are working with strategic partners to identify the best long-term project options. Toward this end, our goals are to demonstrate effectiveness of this model and create something that can be updated and re-used in future years on a substantially smaller budget, which would improve likelihood of obtaining funding from other sources.

Environmental Problem:

Over the past years, the severity of environmental issues has increased, and the negative impacts of human activity on the environment become more evident. Reversing these harmful actions and implementing sustainable actions prove to be difficult, because such habits are ingrained into our daily lives and often embedded within larger economic or even political forces (e.g., The Clean Power Plan, The Paris Agreement). Consequently, we need to identify novel ways to instigate individuals within a community, such as the UW campus, to not only act in sustainable ways every day but to constantly become better eco-citizens.

We believe that – by allowing people to connect with environmental issues in positive, creative ways – games can help people overcome boredom, despair or habits of convenience that stand in the way of action. In addition to being fun, characteristics of games that help to communicate environmental issues include interactivity (i.e., players choose directions and outcomes), capacity to communicate process, and potential to incorporate storytelling and emotional content. As such, we believe that games offer largely untapped potential to help address the broader environmental issue of engaging and inspiring people to become better eco-citizens at multiple levels. This might include changing daily actions and habits, advocating for sustainability in their community or government, or even deciding to apply their professional skills and ingenuity to sustainability problems.

At a local (campus) level, we believe games have enormous potential to help individuals make the connection between their daily actions and meeting campus-wide goals. For example, the goal of reducing carbon emissions 36% below 2005 levels by 2035 (UW Climate Action Plan) can seem abstract to an individual; however, a game can help make links between daily actions of many individuals (e.g., turning off lights, personal cups) and real environmental progress at large scales. One of the important results of the feasibility study was that people were most interested in games that helped demonstrate or realize environmental benefits while also being fun to play (see Appendix). As such, we plan to create games that capitalize on these interests and preferences to help meet campus-wide goals and support existing campus initiatives. For example, our games – both content and specific actions that individuals can commit to - will be designed to help support the UW Climate Action Plan, the 2020 70% Waste Diversion goal, and sustainability priorities of Housing and Food Services department.

Explain how the impacts will be measured:

Direct project success will be readily measurable using three metrics, 1) the number of students, staff, and faculty that we reach through the gaming kiosks over the academic year, 2) the number and types of sustainable actions that players commit to doing, and 3) the rate at which people report on following through on their actions. All of these metrics will be captured as a result of deploying the gaming kiosks during the campus campaign (and other special events) and the follow up survey.

The number of students and faculty that engage with the project through our outreach in partnership with stakeholders (see Partners and Stakeholders) will be another way that we track and measure project success. For example, as a result of presenting this gaming project to students in the Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge, a student entrepreneurial team may be inspired to further develop and expand on this model, or use gaming approaches in a project. Another avenue that we are pursuing includes outreach to other Washington State universities, so a measure of success would be partnering with another university campus to deploy the kiosks at another campus for a period of time. We will keep track of these types of interactions over the project duration to measure project reach and success.

Total amount requested from the CSF: $15,867
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% benefits1606,355.20
Student project manager$20/hr + 20.7% benefits1403,379.60
Student game developer$20/hr + 20.7% benefits2205,310.80
Graphic design (student contractor)$20/hr (no benefits)40800.00
Game participant incentives$25.008200.00
Kiosk design/security (locking stand)$200.003600.00
18" tablet computers$600.0031,800.00
Cloud computing for game hosting200.00
Printing/promotional costs (postcards, flyers)100.00

Non-CSF Sources:

Request approval to use remaining funds from the Feasibility Study (UW Budget 16-4912)funds rollover2,878.78
Borrow (vs. purchase) tablet computers from Information School, School of Aquatic & Fishery Sciences)in-kind1,800.00
Theo Chocolatesin-kind for gaming participant prizes200.00
Aqua Verde Restaurantin-kind for gaming participant prizes150.00
Ivar's Restaurantin-kind for gaming participant prizes100.00
Project Completion Total: $19,195


TaskTimeframeEstimated Completion Date
Finalize kiosk design and locations with HFS1 monthJuly 2018
Finalize 4 topics (e.g., water pollution, waste) and desired behavioral changes1 monthAugust 2018
Draft design of games/art assets2 monthsSeptember 2018
Develop game back-end for survey and mailing list1 monthOctober 2018
Game development and beta-testing3 monthsDecember 2018
Develop follow up materials/surveys/get HSB approval1-2 monthsJanuary 2018
Deploy kiosks for three weeks each at 6 selected locations & promote6 weeksJan - Feb 2018
Send out follow up survey to players to evaluate impact 3 weeksApril 2018
Present project results (e.g., UW Earth Day, other universities)2 monthsMay - June 2018