The Campus Conservation Nationals are part of a trend toward the gamification of everything, including saving energy.

Tech companies are using games to come up with new product ideas. Drug companies are using games to get patients to take their medications every day. This game involves 140 college and university campuses around the country that are competing to see whose students can save the most energy and water.

Click to listen to the extended play podcast based on our public radio feature. We explore persistence, behavior versus culture change, the role of technology, and how to make games better.


(This is NOT the broadcast version for stations.)

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Mariasol Hill, University of Washington

Student residents of Alder Hall, UW

Clive Pursehouse, UW

Susan Mazur-Stommen, ACEEE

Hannah Debelius, USGBC

UW students pose for photos at a kickoff event for the 2014 Campus Conservation Nationals.


Dorm residents write their ideas for saving energy and water.

Transcript of the 4-minute radio feature

Student: 3-2-1-.

Denis: This party could be the start of a fierce rivalry here at the University of Washington. At least, that’s the plan.

Mariasol Hill: My name is Mariasol Hill and I’m the resident director for Alder Hall. Tonight we’re doing a kickoff event for the Campus Conservation Nationals. If we win as a hall then I’ll buy them a foosball table. We also have a little photo booth where they can hashtag how they’re going to conserve energy for this month and they get entered into a competition to win $50.

Denis: The Campus Conservation Nationals are part of a trend toward the gamification of everything. Tech companies are using games to come up with new ideas. Drug companies are using games to get patients to take their medications every day. This game involves 140 campuses around the country who are competing to see which one can save the most energy and water. But in this dorm it’s less about beating other schools, and all about what these residents can do to beat their rivals in the two dorms across the street.

Student: I’m Casey and I’m from Walla Walla Washington. I don’t really like showering particularly anyway, so I figure if it’s for a good cause, why not just stop? I just figure that’s the way I can do my part.

Student: I’m Catherine and I’m from Seattle. One thing I could do is I could unplug my charger when I’m charging my stuff ‘cause that’s a bad habit I have. I’ve heard that’s called an energy vampire because it’s sucking up energy without actually doing anything.


Clive Pursehouse: Here we are, students are in university, they’re trying to get their degree. They’re learning, they’re becoming adults — and our mission is complementary of the university’s mission, as an educator outside the classroom.

Denis: Clive Pursehouse is an administrator for residential life at the University of Washington. He runs campus sustainability initiatives like recycling and composting — and for him this game is about learning.

Clive: Universities are going to probably come up with the next great discovery that allows us to live more sustainably, whether it’s in a laboratory or in the classroom or in an office someplace. But we’re really looking at how do people live. And part of the reason that we have these challenges environmentally and otherwise is because of how we all live. Just things we do day-to-day. And we have the opportunity to have an impact on how students think about the things that they do and the way that they live.

I think for us really the Campus Conservation Nationals are a kind of an intense time for us to talk to people about energy use and conservation and those kinds of things. This year we’re actually going to do it with Poplar Hall, Alder Hall and Elm Hall, so we have three buildings that are all across the street from each other. We’ll do some things to kind of stoke competitive fire.

One of the things I’ve heard on other campuses, and we didn’t experience this here, is that students find out when the base data collection time period is, and they use more energy — which is a shame…

Denis: Sandbaggers!

Clive: Yeah, they’re definitely sandbagging it! (Laughter)


Susan Mazur-Stommen: They hack it. They do everything they need to do to win.

Denis: Susan Mazur-Stommen is a cultural anthropologist and the director of behavior and human dimensions at the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy.

Susan: They go out to eat. They don’t take showers. They actually do kind of an aggressive move and they’ll take showers in each other’s dorms. So they’re brilliant at that. So I’m not saying that a game isn’t a fun way to catch people’s attention. But I don’t think you’re going to see long-term persistence.

If I were a game designer I would make it harder. I would plug up some of those hacks that people can do and I would really challenge people. And I think people would rise to the occasion. I think oftentimes we underestimate that the challenge is what engages people, and not necessarily winning.


Denis: There, see, it’s not about winning. It’s about the challenge, the teamwork, bonding together for a common cause. So, no rivalry — right?

Casey: Since there’s a foosball table on the line, there’s definitely a rivalry because who doesn’t want a foosball table, I mean, come on!



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Campus Conservation Nationals web page

Energy Efficiency Requires Merging Technology and Occupant Behavior Energy Priorities Magazine

Gaming can make a better world TED Talk by Jane McGonigal – video

Gamification in healthcare isn’t just about playing games TechTarget

Are you being played? How tech companies use gamification Venture Beat

A business case for games play at work ComputerWeekly

From Fitbit to Fitocracy: The Rise of Health Care Gamification Wharton

Gamification Research Network