Forget Candy Crush. A new addictive online game is challenging users to do everyday chores using the least amount of electricity. The premise may seem simple, but the game could have a lasting effect on your life.
Power House, developed by researchers with the aim of getting players to change their energy behavior, asks users to get a family of four to use as little electricity as possible as they move through their virtual home doing tasks like the laundry, making coffee or flushing the toilet. The catch is users have to turn off appliances and lights and cannot move family members through a dark room, which means lights need to be on or the blinds must be pulled up. But if a player uses too much electricity at once, the circuit shorts.
Practicing these behaviors online can change our own household behavior, according to communications scholar Byron Reeves and three Stanford colleagues. The researchers found that people who played Power House behaved in a more energy-efficient manner immediately afterward both in a lab and in their homes, according to Environment and Behavior. 

“Taken together, the experimental and field results demonstrate that energy information embedded in an entertaining game, one that parallels the features and goals of commercially successful applications, can change energy behavior,” they conclude.

The researchers used 40 participants in a lab where five appliances were running, four lights and a computer. Half the participants played Power House while the other played a game focused on time management. After 30 minutes of play, researchers asked them to close up the office without clarifying what that meant. Experimenters found that Power House players were significantly more aware of power than their counterparts, turning off an average of 2.55 of the appliances (compared to .55 appliances for non-game players).

But the group took researcher further and partnered with California utility provider PG&E to tap 51 adults for a second experiment. The participants performed tasks within Power House during 10 game sessions over the course of 17 days with their own energy consumption monitored by PG&E.

In this scenarios, the results were not as impressive: Researchers found a 2 percent decline in household energy use during that period, compared with consumption measures for the previous month.

While it’s not a huge change, the repetition of game tasks could make a difference in our energy usage.

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