This week I played Consumer Consequences an interactive game by American Public Media. It’s an online game that is designed to “illustrate the impact of our lifestyles on the Earth.” At the start of the game, you choose an avatar that represents you. As you continue the game, you are asked questions about your consumption in categories including, electricity, waste, transportation, food, and goods and services. At the end of the game, it calculates your score and reports “how many ‘earths’ of natural resources it would take to sustain all 6.6 billion humans… if everyone lived like you.” It would take 6.8 earths to sustain everyone on the planet if they all lived like me.
To critique Consumer Consequences, I used McGonigal’s criteria for a good Alternate Reality Game: optional, compelling obstacles, and well-designed feedback. I actually think it satisfies all three requirements. The game is completely optional. I was actually sent this game by a friend in the Public Health Department of UNC Chapel Hill. I didn’t open it until I needed an ARG to review. Consumer Consequences has fairly compelling obstacles. In recent years, society has become increasingly more aware of the impact humans have on the Earth and “going green,” so I think that makes the topic of the game extremely relevant. I think that they could have gone a much further with the obstacles by making them more interactive than just answering a question. Although the tasks aren’t that difficult, the game really stands out with well-designed feedback.
There are many ways the game gives feedback. It uses the data you provide to generate bar graphs, so you can see where you consume the most. It includes a “behind the numbers” link that provides information on how they calculated the scores. At the very end of the game it gives you the opportunity to compare your score with others. I did this and was able to compare scores with people from all different locations, economic statuses, gender, ages, political parties, etc. I was also give the opportunity to go back and try and get a better score by “changing my life habits.” I think that this gave you many different ways to evaluate the results and gave good feedback on how you can reduce your consumption.
I learned that I could try to find better, more environmentally friendly modes of transportation –perhaps riding my bike or taking the Elon Bio Bus. I also learned my food and shopping habits leave a lot to be desired. I’m sure the next time I’m out and about that I will think about this game. I say that because it’s already happened. Speaking with the friend who sent me the game already had me thinking about my habits and consumption. The game is still going on, so there is not really any research about it. They do welcome feedback and ask for your information so that they can make the game better. While I do think there are more effective and challenging ARGs out there, I think this one does a pretty good job of making you more aware of your actions and how they impact the environment.