Using Gamification to Teach Children Sustainability

Using Gamification to Teach Children Sustainability

15 Sep 2021 | Original

On some level, our relationship with nature and the environment is deeply connected to what we were taught as children. Lessons in preventing wastefulness through recycling and reuse as children, go a long way in determining the choices we make as adults on the kind of impact we make on the environment. Hence, early years education can play a key role in building societies that value sustainability and understand the importance of protecting the environment.

It is important that societies invest time and effort in providing knowledge to young people on how humans impact the environment. If children understand the links between their consumption patterns and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, they will learn to practice caution in consumption choices as adults. Similarly, if children are provided with a deep understanding of how global warming will impact their own futures, they will have clarity on why it is important to preserve the environment. In recent years, the education system has made progress on imparting environmental awareness to the student body. Some schools conduct small awareness campaigns, others organize tree planting days on- and off-campus, and some ensure that students understand how to separate rubbish and recyclables.

Whatever method of imparting environmental education, it is most important is to consider how it can be made interesting and engaging for the students so that they don’t treat it as a burdensome chore, but rather actively participate and practice the lessons in their lives. One such way is gamification. Gamification is the use of game design and mechanics to promote learning by increasing participation, loyalty, competition, and engagement. It can be a useful tool when teaching children about the environment in that it captures the students’ attention and also motivates behavioral change.

Games use simulations of real-world contexts and competitions to encourage learning and adaptation of certain behaviors. One example is Super Sorter, a game that takes children to a virtual materials recovery facility where they are asked to sort mixed recyclables. Plastic bottles, cardboard boxes, and other recyclables appear on a conveyor belt and children are required to sort them using four different technologies. All the sorters specialize in one specific recyclable, and children need to place sorters strategically to get the highest recovery rate and win. Lifeboat to Mars simulates how ecosystem function. It takes children to Mars, a clean slate for humanity, where it introduces different ecosystems, food webs, and single cell organisms. Children are then tasked with making decisions using this knowledge to build an ecosystem on Mars. Similarly, Eco is a digital game that simulates a civilization and emphasizes players’ impact on the environment requiring children to find a balance between development and the conservation of the natural world. Another recent application of gamification is a playful and interactive science textbook that lets users explore different layers of the world providing an understanding of how their actions impact the environment.

A recent study shows that gamification has the potential to educate and motivate sustainable behavior and living.[1] Gamification can be a very useful tool for younger audiences in converting real world problems into understandable and actionable tasks, while ensuring that the learning process is meaningful and fun. However, the study finds that more thought needs to be put into game design to build user loyalty. The study states that if game design is not well thought out, learning takeaways may not translate to actual behavioral change. Game developers need to understand user psychology when building player interface. Games need to be novel, creative and include difficulty levels so players do not lose interest over time. The design also needs to include challenges and puzzles as further motivators for users to stay engaged. Additionally, it is important that game design has elements of storytelling to emotionally involve the user and enrich their experience.

A large number of game producers end up producing games that promote violence, destruction, and occupation. However, for young children, the best way to gamify sustainability is to use images and characters that are already popular amongst them. For example, a game with Elsa from the famous animation Frozen can teach children about global warming, and Spider-Man could teach children about saving the planet by putting an end to illegal logging. Thus, established powerhouses in the gaming industry who are already doing an amazing job at conceptualizing, designing, and launching all kinds of games for diverse audiences, and hold immense loyalty as well as profits, need to build on this knowledge-base and join the fight for a sustainable future.

[1] Schiele, Kristen. (2017). Utilizing Gamification to Promote Sustainable Practices. 10.1007/978-3-319-53121-2_16-1