This Accepted Author Manuscript is copyrighted by Springer. The final publication is
available via http://link.springer.com/book/10.1007/978-3-319-09228-7. Suggested citation:
Huber, M.Z., Hilty, L.M.: Gamification and Sustainable Consumption: Overcoming the
Limitations of Persuasive Technologies. In: Hilty, L.M., Aebischer, B. (eds.) ICT
Innovations for Sustainability. Advances in Intelligent Systems and Computing 310. Springer
International Publishing (2014)
Gamification and Sustainable Consumption: Overcoming
the Limitations of Persuasive Technologies
Martina Z. Huber1 and Lorenz M. Hilty1,2,3
1 Department of Informatics, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland
2 Empa, Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology, St. Gallen,
3 Centre for Sustainable Communications CESC, KTH Royal Institute of Technology,
Abstract. The current patterns of production and consumption in the
industrialized world are not sustainable. The goods and services we consume
cause resource extractions, greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental
impacts that are already affecting the conditions of living on Earth. To support
the transition toward sustainable consumption patterns, ICT applications that
persuade consumers to change their
havior into a “green” direction have been
developed in the field of Persuasive Technology (PT). Such persuasive systems,
however, have been criticized for two reasons. First, they are often based on the
assumption that information (e.g., information on individual energy
consumption) causes behavior change, or a change in awareness and attitude
that then changes behavior. Second, PT approaches assume that the designer of
the system starts from objective criteria for “sustainable” behavior and is able to
operationalize them in the context of the application.
In this chapter, we are exploring the potential of gamification to overcome the
limitations of persuasive systems. Gamification, the process of using game
elements in a non-game context, opens up a broader design space for ICT
applications created to support sustainable consumption. In particular, a
gamification-based approach may give the user more autonomy in selecting
goals and relating individual action to social interaction. The idea of
gamification may also help designers to view the user’s actions in a broader
context and to recognize the relevance of different motivational aspects of
social interaction, such as competition and cooperation. Based on this
discussion we define basic requirements to be used as guidance in gamification-
based motivation design for sustainable consumption.
Keywords: Gamification, Sustainable Consumption, Persuasive Technology,
Technology Paternalism, Collaborative Software
M.Z. Huber and L.M. Hilty
The goods and services consumed in industrial societies are the main cause of global
environmental impact. Sustainable consumption and production aims at changing
“unsustainable patterns of consumption and production” and requires “fundamental
changes in the way societies produce and consume” in order to “achieve global
sustainable development” [1, p. 12].
ICT applications have been developed to support users in this imperative change
towards sustainable consumption. Specifically, eco-feedback technologies and so-
called Persuasive Sustainability Systems (PSSs), which are Persuasive Technologies
(PTs) in the field of sustainability, aim at inducing users to more sustainable behavior.
Whereas eco-feedback technologies have primarily focused on raising awareness by
providing information on measurable aspects of sustainability, PSSs go beyond this
and suggest predefined actions typically designed to achieve a rational goal. Within
current implementations these two technologies usually merge, as in the cases of
UbiGreen , a mobile phone application supporting “green” choices of transport
modes or features in Toyota cars which encourage eco-friendly driving . Recently,
community-based approaches encouraging environmentally friendly actions,
particularly in regard to reducing residential electricity usage have increasingly been
discussed within the field of ICT. Eco-feedback and PT have been expanded to the
Internet, sharing usage data and comparing it with predefined benchmarks and social
norms. Examples include WattsUp , which focuses on social norms and
StepGreen.org , which additionally suggests actions that “may save money or
energy” (p. 2).
In spite of the widely acknowledged desirability of encouraging sustainable
behavior, PT has been criticized for several limitations. These involve, in particular,
an oversimplified and isolated view on behavior due to focusing on clearly
measurable aspects, the inherent technology paternalism and the lack of solution
building  . These limitations will be explained in more detail later.
The design of ICT solutions to support people in behavior change needs to be
approached in a more comprehensive way. Instead of focusing only on predefined
solutions, the context of the process causing the consumption has to be analyzed. This
requires additional engagement strategies, the (social) context of an action and the
user’s cognitive, emotional and social capabilities. Research has shown that games
have a high potential for engaging people in a wide variety of ways.
Games tap into the world of “fun”, affect emotions and have the ability to involve
users more deeply. At the same time they have the potential to motivate users toward
a specific course of action without dogmatism . Gamification is the use of game or
game design elements in non-game contexts and has recently become of increasing
interest within ICT. “Assuming that people like to play but are confronted in their
everyday life with non-motivational activities, gamification is the process that induces
motivation in those activities” [8, p. 3]. Gamification does not say anything about
how to use game elements in the non-game context or what the non-game context has
to be. As a result gamification-based approaches can be found in a wide range of
applications. Approaches include loyalty programs (e.g. collecting miles in frequent-
M.Z. Huber and L.M. Hilty
flyer programs or stamps in super markets), systems encouraging customers to share
information (e.g. showing progress bars and scores such as in LinkedIn  and
ResearchGate ), or motivating consumers to eco-friendly driving behavior (e.g.
providing information on average consumption as Toyota does ) or to reduce
electricity consumption (e.g., by enabling normative comparison as done by Opower
As a matter of fact, all of these gamification-based approaches are rooted in PT-
based design. Depending on the perspective, it could also be argued that recent PT-
based approaches include gamification-based ideas (see for example , , and ).
Regardless of where the line between PT and gamification is drawn, all the examples
previously mentioned inherit the limitations of PT-based design.
In this chapter, we elaborate requirements intended to guide the design of a
gamification-based approach, which motivates sustainable consumption while
overcoming the present limitations of PT. Sustainable consumption is embedded in,
and influenced by, a complex structure of regulations, communities, large enterprises,
and other stakeholders. All of these entities affect a consumer’s decision-making
process and in their turn may be influenced by it. We believe that in order to achieve
sustainable consumption it is important to take into account the influences of all these
entities. Our research focuses on the potential role of gamification in this context.
The chapter is organized as follows: Section 2 provides some background on PT
and discusses the major limitations of PT; we focus on limitations we consider to be
relevant, at least in the context of sustainable consumption. Section 3 gives an
overview of gamification. Section 4 provides examples of first attempts to introduce
gamification into the field of sustainable consumption. Section 5 elaborates basic
requirements for gamification-based approaches to sustainable consumption that can
guide designers who want to overcome the limitations of PT-based approaches.
Finally, section 6 provides preliminary conclusions and identifies open research
Fig. 1. Information comparison as a persuasion technique (Source: )
M.Z. Huber and L.M. Hilty
2 Persuasive Technology
The concepts we introduce below are based on Fogg’s work on captology  – the
study of computers as persuasive technology.
Persuasion. Fogg defines persuasion as “an attempt to change attitudes or behavior or
both (without using coercion or deception)” (p. 15). Thereby, intention to change
attitudes or behaviors is seen as a necessary condition for persuasion. The goal of
persuasion is to generate intentionally planned attitude and behavior changes ,
. “Self-persuasion” is a specific form of persuasion in which a person already
agrees with the values directing the behavior change and the persuasive system is
used in order to “overcome a weakness of the will” [15, p. 645].
Persuasive Systems. Based on the definition of “persuasion”, PT can be defined as an
“interactive computer system [technology] designed to change people’s attitudes and
behaviors” [14, p. 1]. Thereby, PT “focuses on the attitude and behavior changes
intended by the designers of interactive technology products” [14, p. 17]. As an
example, Fig. 1 shows a speed monitoring system. The underlying goal is to raise
drivers’ awareness of their speed and implicitly suggesting driving at the maximal
indicated speed limit. Specific applications of PT are usually called “persuasive
systems”. The application of PT in the domain of ecological sustainability has created
the special case of “persuasive sustainability systems” (PSSs). Contemporary PSSs
are described as “technologies that sense, interpret, and respond to human activity by
providing information intended to change the behavior of individual consumers
according to a metric selected in a top-down fashion usually defined as reducing
resource consumption” [6, p. 950].
Eco-feedback Technology. Eco-feedback technology provides information (e.g. by
mobile phones, ambient displays, or online visualizations) about individual or group
behavior and its environmental effects. These applications are based on the
assumption that their users lack awareness and understanding of the environmental
effects of their everyday behavior [16, p. 1999]. Research on eco-feedback has its
roots in environmental psychology and – as some authors claim – may improve PT
research . Whereas eco-feedback systems have the character of raising
awareness, PSSs tend to persuade consumers to change their behavior in order to
achieve a specific system goal.
Communicating with vs. Communicating through Computers. Persuasive and
eco-feedback technologies are important in human-computer interaction (HCI)
research. In HCI, the focus is mainly on people’s interaction with computer systems
. Fogg makes a distinction between this view and the paradigm of computer-
mediated communication (CMC). In the first case, the system is viewed as a
“participant in the interaction and possible source of persuasion”, able to “proactively
M.Z. Huber and L.M. Hilty
seek to motivate and influence users, drawing on strategies and routines programmed
into it [e.g. by incentives or negotiations].” [14, p. 16].
In the second case, the focus is on people’s interaction through computer systems,
which are used “as a channel that allows humans to interact with each other (e.g.
instant messaging and electronic whiteboards for collaboration)” [14, p.16]. While
captology – the study of computers as persuasive technology – investigates how
people are persuaded when interacting with computers, we consider that both aspects
are equally relevant to a gamification-based approach.
The Scope of Consumption. Consumer behavior has been a subject of research in the
fields of evolutionary psychology, anthropology and sociology. In a nutshell, there is
high evidence that consumer behavior is mainly influenced by
• Symbolic roles and cultural meanings of consumer goods (e.g. McCracken in )
• Social and sexual competition (e.g. Penn in )
• Continual process of constructing and reconstructing personal identity (e.g. Soron
Individual decisions and actions are rooted in routines and based on affective and
emotional bursts. They evolve from the complex structure of socio-cultural and socio-
economic influences and rely on restrictions due to constraints (e.g. regulations) or
current unavailability of possibilities (e.g., due to low income).
PT is usually based on the implicit assumption that information causes behavior
change – or at least a change in awareness and attitude that will then cause behavior
change. Against the background of the views cited, this looks like a reversion to the
era of psychological behaviorism.
2.2 Limitations of PT-based Approaches to Sustainable Consumption
In this subsection, we present an overview of aspects of PT-based approaches
discussed in the literature with a focus on issues we consider particularly limiting in
the context of sustainable consumption.
Focus on Measurable Effects. PT-based approaches applied in the field of
sustainability usually rely on measurable effects declared as sustainability indicators,
for example how much of a resource such as electric energy has been used. The
measured data, typically in regard to a benchmark, usually works as a trigger for
system actions (e.g. a list of predefined “solutions” such as turning off the lights),
with the intention of persuading consumers to move toward the system goal (such as
reducing energy consumption).
Measurements are becoming more and more fine-grained, allowing more tailored
interventions by PT. In the domain of residential electricity consumption, an approach
called Non-Intrusive Load Monitoring (NILM) is becoming popular. The goal of
NILM is to recognize household appliances based on their “energy signature”.
Machine learning algorithms applied for this purpose have been improved over the
last years. However, accuracy is still an issue, especially if appliances are new and/or
M.Z. Huber and L.M. Hilty
have similar signatures  (e.g., dryer and oven ). Furthermore, satisfactory
answers to privacy concerns are still missing .
Despite improvements in such technologies, with a too narrow focus on measured
output, even with 100 % accuracy in NILM, interpretation of the meaning attached to
an action (e.g. reason, intention and kind of action) and analysis of the process
causing the consumption become very difficult or even impossible.
Assumption of Rational Choice. PT-based approaches are often based on the
implicit assumption that consumers are rational actors whose only goal is to optimize
their activities based on their preferences and knowledge . “Rational choice models
assume that human behavior is regulated by a systematic process of evaluating
expected utility.” [16, p. 2000]. Under this assumptions rational actors in any given
situation only take actions that provide the biggest personal gain at the least personal
cost. Evidence shows that “ordinary people in ordinary situations are simply not
capable of processing all the cognitive information required for so-called ‘rational’
choices.” [23, p. 36]. Benkler  argues that under the homo economicus
assumption, volunteer work for peer-production projects such as Wikipedia 
would not exist. Even though there are people who show a behavior based on purely
selfish choices – a limited form of rational choice –, research has shown that this
applies to only one third of the population .
Feeding back data from measurable aspects of sustainability makes sense under the
assumption of purely rationally motivated consumers. However, consumers are
diversely motivated, and the interpretation of change in measured output under the
isolated assumptions of rational choices loses sight of the broader motivational
aspects of human behavior, and may lead to ineffective action triggers produced by
the system (e.g. predefined “solutions” which have no meaning to consumer).
Insufficient Account of Individual Differences and Social Context. PT-based
approaches are for the most part built on a foundation that information will trigger a
predetermined interpretation and action in all consumers. This assumption can only be
made if consumers are seen as identical and isolated agents. In reality, though,
consumers come with a “variety of backgrounds, desires, and skillsets” [26, p. 225]
and their decisions are influenced by their individual and collective identity. Identity
in this context is “the meanings one has as a group member, as a role-holder, or as a
person” and part of the self which emerges from social interactions [27, p. 8].
According to Greenwald and Pratkanis , the self consists of three different
• public: ‘people [parents, peers, authorities] think I…’,
• private: ‘I [my inner audience for behavior] think I…’,
• collective: ‘my family [reference group] thinks I…’.
The development and influential power of these aspects depend on cultural variation,
specifically on the complexity, the level of individualism, and the looseness of a
culture. Based on this view of humanity, it can be assumed that the more all three
dimensions are developed, the more likely it is that people will express their private
M.Z. Huber and L.M. Hilty
self . No individual self can exist without social relations. Mead views the self as
“something which has a development; it is not initially there, at birth, but arises in the
process of social experience and activity (…)” [30, p. 1]. Baumeister and Leary point
out the importance of the need to belong, which “can be considered a fundamental
human motivation” [31, p. 521].
Within the design structure of PT-based approaches, while focusing on measurable
aspects of sustainability and assuming consumers are purely rationally motivated, it
makes sense to consider consumers as uniform agents. However, ignoring the
complex interaction between the individual, groups and society locks out major
consumer segments and may not lead to solutions that can sustain motivation over a
Paradigm of Raising Awareness and Changing Attitudes. PT-based approaches
are typically designed following the paradigm that raising awareness and changing
attitudes are the main drivers for behavior change. Research, however, has shown that
behavior change does not necessarily come from raised awareness , nor from a
change in attitude . In fact, the actual influence of awareness on any change in
behavior is usually unclear since other factors may also have played a [unknown] role
. Empirical results suggest that some behaviors are induced neither by attitude nor
intention; on the contrary, observations have shown that “although the attitude-to-
behavior connection is not very substantial, the behavior-to-attitude link has been
shown to be quite strong” [33, p. 253]. For example, “people may recycle simply as a
result of changes in municipal waste collection services, without ever having decided
that recycling is a good thing” [23, p. viii].
A too narrow focus on awareness and attitude, assuming purely reactive
consumers, misses the power on consumer’s decisions deriving from a broad field of
various influences. As pointed out before, influences derive from structures into
which consumers are integrated such as communities, major corporations, rules and
regulations. Moreover, purely focusing on awareness and attitude misses the
motivational power given by pro-active engagement opportunities.
Inherent Technology Paternalism. PT-based approaches applied in the field of
sustainability are mostly based on the implicit assumption that the designers of the
application start from objective criteria for “sustainable” behavior and are able to
operationalize them in the application context. The evaluation of the consumer’s
actions according to these criteria is delegated to the system in order to automatically
rate the impact of an action and to recommend alternatives. In this process, “the
designer seems to be de facto more knowledgeable about sustainability than the users
of PSSs” [6, p. 953]. This attitude is referred to as “technology paternalism”.
Paternalism is a concept used in ethics, describing an attitude involving imposition of
solutions to assumed problems on other persons even without their consent.
The underlying ethical dilemma arises from the fact that an imposed solution on
one side clearly “violates the autonomy of the other person”. On the other hand, “by
not imposing [the solution] one may not do the best possible in the interest of the
M.Z. Huber and L.M. Hilty
2.3 Potential for Improvement
PT persuades people rather than creating opportunities for negotiation, reflection and
self-conviction. Thereby, the question arises “where to draw the fine line between
persuasion and manipulation.” [15, p. 634]. Furthermore, PT assumes “that the user
has already understood and accepted the larger reason that the technology inscribes”
[7, p. 61].
Consequently there is room for innovation to tap a much greater potential for
motivating and supporting sustainable consumption through ICT- based solutions.
In the field of residential energy consumption, systems with the goal of motivating
pro-environmental behaviors have evolved from eco-feedback technologies for
electricity consumption such as early ambient displays (e.g. The Power Aware Cord
) and sophisticated remotely accessible In-Home Displays (IHD) to more actively
persuasive systems such as EcoIsland, “a system for persuading users to reduce CO2
emissions” [36, p. 59]. Recently, especially because of the motivational and engaging
character of games, gamification-based design has become of increased interest in this
In the following we are going to outline basic design requirements to overcome the
limitations of PT to sustainable consumption. Gamification-based approaches have
been developed in different fields. The requirements may not be transferable to all of
them e.g. approaches to prevent adolescents from substance abuse and relationship
violence  or to encourage engagement in online debate systems .
In Sect. 3.1 we give background information on gamification with a focus on
motivational aspects of games being of interest for gamification-based approaches to
sustainable consumption. To give a better understanding in how to apply the
theoretical background in the physical world Sect. 4 provides first examples to
introduce gamification into the field of sustainable consumption. Finally, Sect. 5
follows with an outline of basic requirements for these systems to overcome the
limitations of PT.
Whereas the field of gamification has already been implicitly introduced over the last
decades, its terminology is new . One of the most conclusive and most frequently
cited definitions of gamification is given by Deterding et al.: “Gamification refers to
the use (rather than the extension) of design (rather than game-based technology or
other game-related practices) elements (rather than full-fledged games) characteristic
for games (rather than play or playfulness) in non-game contexts (regardless of
specific usage intentions, contexts, or media of implementation).” [40, p. 13].
This definition gives a formal understanding of gamification, it does not restrict the
aim or scope of a gamification-based system. So far more common in loyalty
programs such as frequent flyer programs, recently, the field of gamification has
M.Z. Huber and L.M. Hilty
expanded beyond such programs and gained interest in another area: motivating and
The goal of gamification in this newer area is to engage consumers in the process
of developing their own behaviors, and it does this by “the process of using game
thinking and game mechanics” [39, p. 9].
Gamification does not necessarily require interaction with an ICT system, as the
examples of frequent flyer programs and discount stamps show. However, in the
following, we will implicitly refer to gamification as an ICT-based approach.
Playing or Gaming? According to Deterding and colleagues, playing (from the
Greek term “paidia”) refers to a free form of expression, allowing improvisational
recombination of different behaviors and meanings, in contrast to gaming (from the
Latin term “ludus”) . However, there are no generally accepted definitions of
these concepts, even after millennia of thinking and talking about them . In the
words of Lehman and Witty: “The whole truth' regarding play cannot be known until
the whole truth regarding life itself is known, for play is; not an isolated
phenomenon.” [42, p. 7]. We will rely on the following tentative definitions of the
concept of game:
• “A game is a problem-solving activity, approached with a playful attitude’.
Thereby, ‘play’ is defined as ‘manipulation that satisfies curiosity.” [41, p. 37].
• “A game is a rule-based formal system with a variable and quantifiable outcome,
where different outcomes are assigned different values, the player exerts effort in
order to influence the outcome, the player feels attached to the outcome, and the
consequences of the activity are optional and negotiable.” [43, p. 5]
Game Elements. Schell, based on various definitions of games, identifies ten
elements of a game: “Games are entered willfully, have goals, have conflict, have
rules, can be won and lost, are interactive, have challenges, create their own internal
value, engage players and are closed, formal systems” . Similarly, McGonigal
proposes four defining traits which all games have in common: “a goal, rules, a
feedback system and voluntary participation” [44, p. 20].
The Motivational Power of Games. Despite there is no consensus on how to define
“game”, there is a wide consensus about the motivational power of games .
Motivational aspects are manifold, their power depends on diverse influences such as
context, interface design and genre, and they can be introduced by different means.
We will elaborate on crucial motivational aspects in the following subsections.
Flow. According to McGonigal, the power of a good game is that it “motivate[s] us to
participate more fully in whatever we’re doing” [44, p. 125]. In fact, researchers in
the area of neuropsychology have found evidence that playing video games can
release Dopamine, a neurotransmitter, which “may be involved in learning,
reinforcement of behavior, attention, sensorimotor integration and activation of the
pleasure circuit” [46, p. 266]. This intense neurochemical activation in our brain and
body while playing a good game  has been referred to as state of flow. Flow
M.Z. Huber and L.M. Hilty
expresses a state of being completely absorbed in what one does . It can be
experienced within a small channel between anxiety and boredom and depends on
personal (player) skills in regard to a challenge (Fig. 2). Flow is individually
experienced and can happen in any kind of situation, including non-game activities.
According to this concept, a person (player) in position A (Fig. 2) will try to
improve her or his skills in order to reach the channel of flow for the chosen
challenge. This is illustrated in Fig. 2 by the solid arrow pointing from position A to
the right. A second possibility would be to choose an easier challenge (illustrated by
the dashed arrow pointing from position A downwards (Fig. 2)), but in practice this
solution seems to be less likely . By further improving the skills, a challenge
might be mastered and become boring. In this scenario, the person (player) moves
away from the flow channel and ends up at position B (Fig 2). To go back to the
channel of flow, a harder challenge has to be chosen, indicated by the solid arrow
pointing from position B upwards (Fig 2).
Fig. 2. Flow (Source: author, based on )
Player Types. Based on the observation that different players find different things fun,
Bartle developed an extended concept of different player types. In his basic model he
hypothesizes that four different player types do exist. In the extended model he
specified the player types by each two sub-types (an implicit and an explicit one)
(Table 1) and by the possibility that a player will change type over time. Originally
defined for players of Multi-User-Dungeon (MUD), a multiplayer real-time virtual
world, his framework is useful for various kinds of games.
Model of Skill Acquisition. Based on the model of skill acquisition , , people
seek mastery in whatever they do (e.g. losing weight). The underlying assumption is,
that by “acquiring a skill by means of instructions and experience” people “normally
pass through five developmental stages” – novice, competence, proficiency, expertise
and mastery [51, p. 0].
Cooperation and Competition. Intra-group solidarity (cooperation) and inter-group
competition are two key aspects of human behavior  and two basic mechanisms
M.Z. Huber and L.M. Hilty
used in game design . Whereas, in competition, “individuals or groups seek to
outplay others in accordance with the game rules” [54, p. 7], cooperation encourages
participation and collaboration; “the goal is not to win as a player but as a team of
players” [55, p. 253]. Both goal structures “can be widely implemented in a non-
gaming context” [53, p. 2005]. Moreover, it is also possible to compete with oneself
in order to become better now and in the future, compared to the past.
The high relevance of cooperation in motivating players has been demonstrated by
Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPG) , cooperative
games , and collaborative game-based learning . An online survey related to
player motivation provided data from 3,000 MMORPG players and identified
teamwork as an important social component for player motivation . Results of a
background questionnaire showed that if they had to choose between cooperative and
competitive games, 55% of the 60 6-16 years old kids preferred cooperative games,
while 77% would have liked games with both elements .
Learning. Learning, whether deliberately or inadvertently, is a key factor in behavior
change. “In the social learning system, new patterns of behavior can be acquired
through direct experience or by observing the behavior of others” [57, p. 3]. Together
with modeling our behavior on what others do, this is suggested by research to be a
more promising way for achieving behavior change than raising awareness is .
People learn most effectively from models who are seen as more successful by them
, attractive to them, influential to them or alike them . Collaborative game-
based learning builds on social learning and is described as a game that “involves
more than one player in gameplay with the pedagogical intention to promote
cooperative learning between those engaged in the game.” (p. 4). Key factors for
motivating collaborative learning are cooperation and a sense of belonging .
M.Z. Huber and L.M. Hilty
Original Player Types
New Implicit Types
New Explicit Types
Achievers want to gather as
many points as possible and
Opportunists look around for
things to do and if they see an
opportunity, they take it. They
Planners set a goal and aim to
achieve it. They perform actions as
part of a larger plan and work around
Explorers prefer to expose
the game’s internal
Hackers seek to discover new
phenomena by going where their
fancy takes them and have an
intuitive understanding of the
Scientists actively form theories and
test them. They methodically acquire
new knowledge and seek to explain
Socializers like to connect
with other people.
Friends “interact with people they
know well already, have a deep
understanding of them, and accept
their quirks and foibles.”
Networkers make an effort to find
people with whom to interact, learn
from, and hang out.
Killers like to impose
themselves on others.
Griefers love to attack and get in
your face. Their vague aim is to
acquire a substantial bad
Politicians manipulate people subtly
through forethought and
foresight. They want to contribute to
the community and get a substantial
Table 1. Illustration of Bartle’s Player Types (based on )
4 First Attempts to Introduce Gamification into the Field of
Early approaches including gamification-based ideas have mostly been developed as
prototypes with aspects from PT, eco-feedback technology, game design and other
related fields. The dominating application domain for these systems is found in the
home context, in particular with regard to domestic energy consumption. In the
following, we introduce two examples of prototypes, which often are referred within
literature and one example from the industry, all containing gamification-based
4.1 Domestic Energy Consumption
EcoIsland  is a “game-like application” addressing the final goal of reducing
domestic energy consumption within a household. In regard to a target CO2 emission
level, which is set by each family, rising energy consumption is correspondingly
visualized on an IHD by a rising sea level eventually threatening a virtual island.
Avatars representing the household members inhabit the island. Two possibilities for
stopping the sea level from rising are provided; either through reduction of energy
consumption or by acquiring emission rights. In order to reduce energy consumption,
household members can select actions from a list of actions predefined by the system
designer (such as turning down the air-conditioning). A lower sea level makes it
possible to sell emission rights to other islands (neighboring households). The virtual
M.Z. Huber and L.M. Hilty
earnings can be use to decorate the island. All neighbors are able to see all islands and
all taken actions.
4.2 CO2 Emission Caused by Transportation
UbiGreen  is a mobile phone application which semi-automatically senses means
of transportation and provides corresponding information on the behavior indicating
CO2 emissions caused by taken choices. Small rewards are given to those who take
“green” choices (e.g. taking public transportation, carpooling or walking). Feedback
is provided over two different interfaces between which users can choose. One shows
a tree and the other a polar bear on a small iceberg. Both tree and iceberg indicate
green choices. Progress is shown by a sequence of images. At the beginning the tree
has no leaves and the iceberg, on which the polar bear is standing is very small. When
green means of transportation are chosen, the tree gets more leaves and in the final
stage bears apples. Correspondingly, the iceberg gets bigger and harbors more
animals (fish, seals, other polar bears), finally the last picture shows northern lights
above a large group of polar bears.
4.3 Eco-friendly Driving
Toyota built a special feature into their Prius line , a miles-per-gallon meter,
showing the average miles per gallon since the last fill-up. This feature is claimed to
be the beginning of a trend called hypermiling , a competition where car drivers
try to drive as many miles as possible on one gallon. To do this they use different
techniques, such as adjusting their driving style, driving behind trucks or driving
when it’s not windy.
5 Requirements for a Gamification-based Approach to
By “[attempting] to harness the motivational power of games and apply it to real-
world problems” [59, p. 1], gamification offers opportunities for overcoming
limitations of PT in the domain of sustainable consumption.
Gamification by itself neither guides the designer through the identification of
relevant game design elements nor teaches how to use, apply, and combine these
elements (among themselves and within the context). “Yet despite the parallel
increase in research on fun, entertainment, and motivation in video game play, we are
still in want of theoretical models of the motivational pull of game elements” [60, p.
In fact recent gamification-based approaches have been criticized for just randomly
applying game elements, neither considering the application context nor the user’s
background. This is why they “will fail to drive participation and sustain user
engagement” [61, p. 6]. Moreover, as pointed out in the previous section, current
M.Z. Huber and L.M. Hilty
gamification-based approaches usually inherit some fundamental limitations of PT-
We therefore define four requirements that can help constraining the search space
for good design in the field of gamification-based approaches to sustainable
consumption. This set of requirements is derived from the results and perspectives
discussed in the preceding sections.
5.1 Requirement 1: Respecting Consumers as Individuals
Respecting consumers as individuals by enabling skill acquisition and multiple levels
and types of challenges in order to provide multifaceted user experiences
The model of skill acquisition , , the concept of flow  and the framework
of different player types  together, picture the dynamics and diversity of
individual consumers. Put in simple terms, consumers include different player types
who acquire different skills by different means. Consumers choose these means
according to their desired level of challenge with the goal of maintaining themselves
in the state of flow.
This dynamic is a driving force of engagement within individuals, and has to be
taken into account by gamification-based approaches for sustainable consumption.
Such an approach considers societal, cultural and demographic aspects (e.g.,
regulations, knowledge, restrictions, location of living, number of children, non-
availability of alternatives…) influencing consumers’ decisions. This means that
consumers should not be treated as users to be merely informed, but as social actors
who are engaged in the process of sustainable consumption.
5.2 Requirement 2: Respecting the Consumers’ Autonomy
Respecting the consumers’ autonomy by designing game dynamics that authorize
users to define their own sub-goals and the avenues for reaching their goals (e.g.
according to time, place, action, device, brand)
Direct experience is one important factor in learning, which itself is a powerful factor
in changing behaviors. Developing more sustainable behaviors with regard to
consumption by allowing consumers to design their own routes and choose their own
speed (e.g. by defining sub-goals) instead of following predefined paths and system
structures, thus respecting consumers’ autonomy, is an important part of gamification-
based approaches for sustainable consumption.
This approach enables consumers to obtain experience alongside the core (offering
an indirect path to sustainable consumption) and gives individual meaning to actions
(and to their output). Moreover, consumers are part of the process of solution
building. This is both a powerful motivational element and a bottom-up approach
generating knowledge for the whole field of sustainable consumption.
M.Z. Huber and L.M. Hilty
5.3 Requirement 3: Introducing the Social Level
Enabling social interaction by providing possibilities for (normative) comparisons of
individual achievements and the opportunity to share own experiences and
suggestions with others in order to enable social learning
Gamification-based approaches to sustainable consumption only make sense when
taken to the social level. By doing so, the isolated view of actions can be expanded by
relating them to the context in which they are carried out.
This overcomes the rational approach of measurable aspects by adding meaning to
specific actions. Normative comparisons expand multifaceted user experiences by
introducing additional game elements, such as competition. Moreover, the sharing of
suggestions and experiences might trigger more solutions and strategies for
sustainable consumption and lead to spillover effects.
5.4 Requirement 4: Enabling Collective Action
Enabling group experiences by introducing game elements on a group level in order
to expand user experiences and providing more possibilities for engagement,
particularly intra-group cooperation and inter-group competition
This requirement differs from requirement 3 by specifically addressing the experience
of collective action. By introducing the possibility of collective actions, gamification-
based approaches enable the achievement of group goals. The combination with
requirement 2, e.g. reaching group goals while setting individual sub-goals, widens
the user experience and provides an additional motivational aspect. Moreover, by
taking collective actions, synergetic effects become visual to individuals. This is
relevant because single actions taken by individuals are often perceived as a drop in
6 Conclusion and Future Work
We have discussed limitations of PT we consider relevant in the field of sustainable
• the focus on measurable effects,
• the assumption of rational choice,
• an insufficient account of individual differences and social context,
• the paradigm of raising awareness and changing attitudes,
• the inherent technology paternalism.
Gamification-based solutions have great potential for engaging consumers in
sustainable consumption, but are not per se immune to the limitations of PT. For this
reason, a design framework for gamification-based solutions is needed. Based on
existing evidence from the literature in the fields of PT, eco-feedback technology,
game design, psychology and related fields, we defined four basic design
M.Z. Huber and L.M. Hilty
requirements for gamification-based approaches supporting sustainable consumption.
The four basic design requirements are:
1. Respecting consumers as individuals
2. Respecting the consumers’ autonomy
3. Introducing the social level
4. Enabling collective action
These requirements are intended to provide guidance to the designer who wants to go
beyond the limitations of PT. The definition of these basic requirements is a first
stepping-stone toward a design framework for gamification-based approaches to
A complete framework will provide more guidance to the designer in selecting
features depending on the application context, including cultural factors. Empirical
research will be needed to develop aspects of such a design framework by developing
and testing hypotheses about the effects of specific types of gamification on
motivation in a sustainability context. The most central issue for a process that could
be called “motivation design for sustainable consumption” is how to create a link
between the physical and social reality. Sustainable consumption is rooted in physical
reality, it is about using energy or buying material goods, while these actions are
embedded in existing social practices. Gamification adds a virtual world that creates a
new link between the two spheres and supports the transformation of practices by
using elements of games. Future research based on empirical studies will help to
reveal the success factors of such an approach.
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