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Can Fun and Games Help Save the Planet?

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What if I told you that bingo, snakes and ladders and top trumps could be some of the most powerful weapons in the war against climate change?

You might laugh in disbelief and dismiss my suggestion that games have the potential to help save our planet, but I believe that one of the most engaging ways to create lasting behaviour change is to ensure people have fun whilst they are at it.

It is a sad fact that decades of environmental campaigning has failed to genuinely engage the masses. The focus on the 'doom and gloom' angle and the sheer vastness and complexities of the issue overwhelms rather than inspires ordinary folk.

Admittedly a bad news story, or a guilt-tinged messaging campaign, such as the 'change your ways or the polar bear will die' will have some short term success. It may motivate small children or the would-be greenies who need that last nudge into taking action.

But this approach alone will not enjoy mass appeal and engage the majority to take sustained action in the longer term. Another hurdle to overcome is that we also lack the belief that, as individuals, we can actually have an impact and help solve this issue. This is where my theory of fun and games to save the planet comes in.

In my 'day job' of providing environmental sustainability advice and training I discovered that using simple eco-themed versions of familiar games, interspersed with the more serious side of educational training, kept my audience much more engaged and more open to learning. And most importantly it generates the potential for future behaviour changes.

My theory taps into the growing trend of using 'gamification', utilising the concepts and mechanics of games design, to change people's attitudes and behaviours in real life. Gamification already has had a number of major successes increasing participation, interest and encouraging behaviour change, particularly in the area of medical research.

During Climate Week (March 4-10) I am putting this theory to the test with a Fun and Games to Save the Planet event at the London Science Museum on March 6 and we are inviting people from all walks of life to come and 'have a go'.

Attendees can play a variety of games including eco action trumps card game - an environmental twist on the traditional, much loved top trumps game; become a living counter on a giant eco Snakes and Ladders board and try out their skills with an eco driving simulation game: ranking the efficiency of driving styles with a competition leader board.

The games have been re-imagined with an environmental theme, so absorbing environmental information, and more importantly actions that people can take, happens naturally through game play.

When people are having fun and enjoying themselves, learning is easier. In addition the social interaction of playing with other people, whether they be friends, family or strangers, helps to expose people to other social norms.

The fact that the other players may reveal, for example, that they recycle everything, don't eat vegetables out of season or never use the car for short journeys, during the game will help to re-enforce the idea that these behaviours are typical and normal - so why not adopt them too?

Typically, in a game such as eco-themed top trumps, where simple facts and figures about the environmentally friendly actions you can do are displayed, players quickly grasp the idea that they can save money, resources and carbon emission by adopting them. I have found that this simple game is a powerful motivator that engages children as young as seven all the way through the ages to their grand-parents.

The event is part of my project as a London Leader - an honorary position run by the London Sustainable Development Commission (LSDC) and supported by the Mayor of London's office.

The outcome of this year-long research project will tell us more about whether working with people in this fun way will also have the desired effort of engaging them in environmentally friendly behaviour changes.

I will be interacting with as wide a range of community/interest groups, faith groups as possible and even engaging with London's firemen to test out this approach on them!

Are you game too? I'd love to hear from you.