New Facebook Game ‘Power House’ Makes Saving Energy Fun! (relatively speaking)
I’ve recently been informed that many people, perhaps even most people, don’t get as jazzed about saving energy around the house as I do. This is preposterous. Who wouldn’t be excited aboutcutting down on electricity, water, and gas use at home? I mean, I guess “saving energy” isn’t that terribly thrilling on the face of it, but it’s what happens when we’re not wasting all that energy that gets me going. Less pollution. Less carbon emissions. LOWER UTILITY BILLS. For those less-than-enthusiastic energy savers out there, a new Facebook game has been released that just might make you look at energy usage differently, and get you hopelessly addicted to yet another Facebook app at the same time. Let’s face it: Farmville is so 2 years ago, and Candy Crush? BORING. I’m talking about Power House.
Again, on the face of it, a Facebook game about saving energy doesn’t sound that exciting, and when you think about it, nobody really needs another time-wasting app. But I’m fairly sure you’re on Facebook, and if you’re going to play games on Facebook, and I know many of you already do, might as well make it fun and worthwhile. The premise of Power House is fairly simple: Lead your imaginary family of four average people through their everyday routines while using as little energy as possible. OK, OK, it still doesn’t sound very cool. And maybe it’s not; but I’m telling you it’s challenging and just a bit addicting.
While most game apps are developed to suck up your time and make the game companies lots of money, Power House is a bit different; it was designed by researchers at Stanford University and the U.S. Dept. of Energy with the sole purpose of reducing residential energy use in the real world. Who knew these intellectual types could be so good at building a fun game?
In the game, you move your little digital family through their cute little Facebook home (that’s it pictured above,) getting them to do the things that we all do, the things that in real life are humdrum: doing laundry, cooking meals, going to the potty. (You gotta stay with me: I swear this is all better than it sounds.) The goal, as I mentioned, is to do all these things using as little energy as possible. At first it’s easy, but if your family is using too much energy, a circuit shorts out. This is bad. The more energy you save, the more points you earn.
Things start to get trickier as more family members enter the home, ramping up energy use. Gradually, with more people in the house, more energy’s getting used, and cutting back gets trickier. Juggling more lights, appliances, showers, and toilets isn’t easy, but with practice users slowly learn what they need to do to keep energy usage in check. With any luck, these energy-conserving skills learned in the game will translate into energy savings in the real world. But does it work?
The answer, according to some researchers who actually studied it, seems to be ‘yes.’ 40 participants were brought in to a lab; half played Power House, half played Diner Dash, another popular Facebook game.
Now, in this lab, the researchers conveniently placed some energy-consuming items: two overhead lights, a computer, and a desk lamp. All turned on. The volunteers were asked to play their games for a half hour, after which they were asked to close things up and leave the lab. No other instructions were given to them. And guess what? The players who were playing Power House ended up being much more aware of the lab’s energy use than the Diner Dashers.
The Power House players turned off on average 2.55 out of the five energy-consuming items; this compares to only 0.55 of the items for the Diner Dash players. Hmm. Better yet, interviews with the game participants indicated that none of them associated their newly-discovered conservation habits with the Power House game.
But the researchers weren’t done. Researchers gotta research, so they then studied over 50 actual PG&E utility customers who volunteered for a field test. After 10 Power House game sessions spread out over 17 days, the researchers found a 2% drop in the customers’ electricity usage. Not a huge drop, but a significant drop nevertheless. Any energy saved is a good thing.
I’m not a huge Facebook gamer (OK, I don’t ever play Facebook games) and I can’t believe I’d ever actually suggest such a thing to anybody, but I have given Power House a spin. It’s a fun little game. I’m not going to recommend everybody run out and start spending hours playing it, but I would like everybody to think a little bit more about the energy used around the house and how to use less of it. If Power House gets a few people to use a little bit less power, I say go for it. You’ve got nothing to lose, except your free time and maybe some energy at home, too.