Over the last few years, the popularity of smart meters has grown substantially. A small number of utility companies across the country have started to install them in their clients’ homes to help them save on their electricity bills. Whereas traditional electrical meters only record the consumer’s total consumption, smart meters provide real time energy usage data. This allows consumers to begin to understand how much electricity various appliances in their homes use, as well as the way in which electricity rates change during peak and non-peak hours of the day (electricity is generally cheaper at night). As a result, consumers can adjust their habits to save energy and money. With this logic in mind, Carleton has chosen to install smart meters in its two new dorms. One dorm will monitor electricity usage by floor and the other will monitor electricity usage by suite.
Recognizing what a powerful tool smart meters can be Stanford Professor Byron Reeves (a specialist in psychological processing of media) has decided to design a computer game that encourages productive use of smart meters. He is in the process of developing a game that he hopes will function like World of Warcraft, in that players will be able to interact and compete with one another in a virtual world—except that his prototype will be connected to the real world. The idea is that the game will be hooked up with players’ smart meters allowing players to compete for real world energy savings. The demo video which can be accessed through youtube (definitely check it out-it’s very cool) indicates that the game will look something like the Sims, with virtual houses and people. Energy saving tips will pop up periodically and players will be able to compare their energy use with that of their neighbors. Reeves envisions that it will allow blocks, neighborhoods, towns and eventually entire cities to compete with one another to save electricity. As Reeves has extensively studied the way in which people become emotionally invested in computer games, he believes that players will be motivated to make changes in their daily lives in order to meet game energy reduction goals. As the spokeswoman from his demo enthusiastically announces, “People always say it’s hard to change set behaviors, but as it turned out all they needed was a really good challenge”.
For non-gamers out there, it may be hard to appreciate gamers’ investment in these massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs). However, I think it is safe to say that Reeves has come up with an intriguing idea and it will be interesting to see how it develops.