In the technical report “EcoPath: Adding Spatial, Social, and Gaming Contexts to Personal Tracking Systems” by Joel Ross, Nadine Amsel, Robert Beckman, Bill Tomlinson, we are introduced to “EcoPath,” a mobile game developed to help people track the location of activities which can be thought of as sustainable, such as biking and recycling. In some ways this reminds me of the game GreenSweeper, but rather than reflecting upon and documenting the environmental conditions of a given place, EcoPath players are rewarded for documenting and subsequently reflecting upon their own green actions at a given location.
There is also a social gaming component to the project, in that participants can compete with their friends over territory, making this a fun way to help people maintain more sustainable habits. The authors were also interested in how one might combine many individual actions in a way that ultimately tracks collective action.
The game intends to build more meaning, or context, into the process of tracking sustainable actions thereby decreasing the likelihood that people’s motivation to use manual and/or automated tracking devices would wain over time. The authors suggest that “adding multiple contexts to tracked personal data can make that data more meaningful to users because of the variety of interpretations the contexts support.” In particular they considered spacial (geographical location), social (the sharing of information on various platforms), and gaming (fun!) contexts.
The result of the authors’ research is a pervasive or location-based game called “EcoPath” where participants are able to track the locations of their green actions, and thus compete with other players with the goal of performing the most number of these actions across the widest area possible. The “path” part of the game’s name relates to how the actions performed by players are ordered temporally and linked together as a path. This trail of green behavior shows where players have gone and how they’ve behaved in a more sustainable fashion along the way. The idea is that by tying these actions to location, people may be able to discover the role that place has on their actions. The authors give the example of how a player might notice that when he/she bikes to work they are more likely shop at the local market on the way home, then when they use a car. Further, one might notice how one’s sustainability actions appear to be more or less tied to a given location such as the home, and not at work.
The social context of the game is meant to emulate other location-based social platforms such as foursquare, but in this case, players are allocated points for their green actions, which allows them to compete against other players. At the time of the paper’s writing the game was played on Android mobile devices, which allowed players to take a representative photo of a sustainable action and write a brief note explaining the action, thereby manually creating a “marker” of the preferable behavior. The size of the marker related to it’s rating, which friends have the opportunity to score from 1 to 5, thus forcing some reflection on the relative sustainability of actions. New markers on the map are tied to previous actions with a green path. These paths fade over time, to give players an incentive to keep up the good work. The paper explains in some detail the nature of the scoring associated with the game itself.
The authors discuss the flexibility of the game as a means to support people at various stages of behavioral change. That is, it may work for people who are quite committed to deep green behavior just as much as it might support someone who is just starting to reflect on the impact of their actions on the environment. This assumes the latter would be first motivated to undertake the manual tracking associated with the game as described in the paper. There was no testing of the device in the publication, though this is mentioned as a next step in the process, so perhaps we will hear more in the future on the effectiveness EcoPath.
Source: Ross, J., Amsel, N., Beckman, R., & Tomlinson, B. (2010) EcoPath: Adding Spatial, Social, and Gaming Contexts to Personal Tracking Systems.