Wildeverse: Measuring the impact of online gaming on pro-environmental behaviours
Researcher name: Tilda Dunn
Period: 01/09/2019 – 01/02/2021
Title of research: “Wildeverse: Measuring the impact of online gaming on pro-environmental behaviours”
Funder: National Geographic Society
Outline of research:
Encouraging a commitment towards pro-environmental behaviours has become a priority for conservation. Organisations worldwide invest considerable amounts in developing environmental education programmes with the aim of increasing commitment towards environmental behaviours. Despite this investment, many challenges and barriers to engagement exist and there is a demand to unlock a new, effective resource that is a worthwhile investment for conservation organisations.
Digital games are being developed as a new channel of engagement within the conservation sector. They are used across vast audiences, with growing estimates of 1.8 billion people across the world playing online games, and by a variety of individuals who are currently not reached through conventional mediums of engagement. This technology can be an important force for behaviour change as it is built upon experimental learning, repetitive play and motivated working.
Wildeverse is the latest project from social enterprise, Internet of Elephants, utilising the digital gaming platform to engage the public in conservation. The unique approach of the Wildeverse game encourages pro-environmental behaviours by helping players to create an affective connection with real animals in the wild. The game also provides players with the opportunity to support real-world conservation organisations through making in-game donations to ape-conservation charities.
Despite the high potential value of digital games for conservation, previous studies have presented concerns over using gaming as a behaviour change intervention. For example, it has been argued that games could detract from real-world environmental problems and create an even greater disconnect with these issues. The risks and opportunities within digital games for conservation have currently been little explored and organisations have called for robust impact evaluations for this medium. It is therefore necessary to conduct an evidence based evaluation of Wildeverse, exploring the degree to which it achieves its goal of promoting pro-environmental behaviours among players.
We will aim to answer the research question; Does increased exposure to ‘Wildeverse’ creates an additional willingness of players to support conservation. This will be indicated using a novel approach of measuring the performance of in-game pro-conservation behaviours used as a proxy for behaviour change.
Our objectives are:
1) To produce an analysis of ‘Wildeverse’ that uses a reliable and robust set of in-game indicators, to measure the effectiveness of this intervention. We will use in-game behaviour choices as proxies for real-world pro-conservation behaviours.
2) To monitor individual player progress in displaying behaviours over time. We will utilise a dosage response method, currently underused in conservation impact evaluations, whereby the change in an effect of a dependent variable is monitored over different levels, or doses of an independent variable.
In this study, behaviour change will be monitored over different levels of time spent playing Wildeverse.
3) To publish the results of this study including a robust and repeatable framework for future impact evaluation of conservation gaming interventions.
4) To use the outcomes of this study to develop an adaptive management framework for the future development of the Wildeverse game app and subsequent additions to the game.
Summary of planned activities:
This research will take place over an 18 month period to assess a long term dose effect, beginning in September 2019.
September – October 2019: Game development and piloting
1. We will work with Wildeverse game developers to influence the evaluation features of the game. This includes the in-game dialogue for collecting players baseline data, as well as the behavioural choices that players will take, the results of which will provide a proxy measurement of real-world pro-environmental behaviours.
2. An alpha release will take place in September when pilot testing of these in-game decision making experiments will take place. This pilot will take place with 100 participants that have signed up to play and the further development of the game for launch will be on the basis of these trials and the feedback obtained.
October 2019: Game launch
Wildeverse will launch in the UK mid-July with an estimate of 10,000 individuals playing within the first 3 months.
October 2019 – October 2020: Data collection
1. Player baseline data will be collected through integrated in-game questions posed as part of the in-game dialogue. These will measure; individual demographic data, initial pro-conservation behaviours and initial attitudes and knowledge about environmental issues. These measures will provide information on the sample as well as a counterfactual to measure player progress against.
2. As players continue with the game, their in-game behaviours will be monitored and data on; the frequency of their pro-environmental behaviour choices and time spent in the game will be measured.
November 2020 – February 2021: Data analysis
1. Statistical analysis will be conducted to explore the variance in the outcome indicator (the occurrences of pro-environmental behaviour) that can be attained to predictor variable (dose/time spent playing the game). We will use confounding variables measured to ensure that the relationship is due to the predictor.
2. Completion of the study write up and dissemination of results gathered will then take place.
The data collected within this study will be used to produce a statistical analysis to assess the relationship between a player's exposure to Wildeverse and their performance of in-game pro-
conservation behaviours. In addition, a number of tangible outputs will be produced following the collection of these results.
This project is unique in its use of in-game behaviour choices as a metric for behaviour change, and therefore we will produce a scientific paper on this novel study. This paper will add to a growing amount of literature concerning the use of digital gaming in conservation, but will also fill the gap between a lack of evaluations of games as behaviour change interventions. This paper has the potential to be an important foundation for building future evaluation studies within this field.
Researchers within this field have called for a strategy for robust impact evaluation of conservation games. This research will therefore also produce a manual for evaluating online games comprised of the methods used and best practice learnt from this study. The goal of this manual will be to robustly evaluate future games to ensure they are effective in promoting pro-conservation behaviours.
The adaptive nature of game development and active learning acquired from this evaluation process presents a novel opportunity to inform and improve game development throughout this study. Therefore, a set of management strategies to Internet of Elephants will be produced to adaptively evolve the future stages of this game’s development, increasing its potential in influencing pro-environmental behaviours.