Gaming for Good: Gamifying waste minimisation

Gaming for good:

Gamifying Waste Minimisation

by Sophie Annan

‘To become the most liveable city in the world, Auckland will aim for the long-term aspiration goal of Zero Waste by 2050’ (Auckand Council, 2012).

Auckland Council (Council) wants to become Zero Waste by 2050. This is no easy task when you consider the following statistics:

  • Auckland sends over 1.174 million tonnes of waste to landfill each year, this is equal to 8 kg of waste per person per year (Auckand Council, 2012).
  • If sorted correctly 65% of the waste sent to landfill could have been recycled, reused or composted.

Of the 1.174 million tonnes of waste Council only controls 17% of the waste stream, mostly kerbside collections.

To reach the goal of Zero Waste Council must change the way Aucklanders think about the things they throw away. ‘Zero waste means changing the way we think about waste, treating it as a resource rather than a disposal problem, put another way zero waste is about moving from linear to cyclical resource flows’ (Auckand Council, 2012).

While taxes and lobbying Government may be the way to change the behaviour of businesses and industry, Council must look at how it can change the behaviour of everyday householders. In 2012 Council devised The Auckland Waste Management and Minimisation Plan (WMMP). This set out the aims and key actions for Council waste minimisation strategy. One of these key actions was to put significant investment into waste minimisation education (Auckand Council, 2012).

Five years into the WMMP Council has used social media campaigns, websites, experiential learning and curriculum linked education to promote waste minimisation education in schools and within the community.

While these programmes have help make steps towards zero waste there are still segments of the community who are not responding to the message. Younger people, Aucklanders aged 16-29 are doing fewer beneficial waste minimisation activities than the Auckland average (Auckland Council, 2013) .

Digital Natives

Less Active in Waste Minimisation

20% of Auckland’s 1,415,550 population are aged 16-29. (Statistics New Zealand, 2017). The Auckland Household Waste Prevention Study (2013) looked into the behaviour and attitudes of Aucklanders in relation to waste. It found this segment of the population are doing very little to reduce their waste. The study found these young people had a low level of concern for the environment and were the least willing of all the age groups to change their behaviour. (Auckland Council, 2013).

While unconcerned with environmental issues these youths were the most confident with digital technology. This group could be described as the ‘digital natives’, those born during a time of digital technology. They were more likely to own a smart phone of all the age groups studied and when ask what their preferred source of information about waste minimisation was they were likely to turn to their computer; using google, council websites or online tutorials to other methods like workshops or talking to friends. (Auckland Council, 2013)

So how can Council change the behaviour of this group? Could digital games be the answer to engaging this group of young Digital natives?

Digital natives and games

Digital natives like to play digital games and they are spending more time playing than ever before.  A study tracking New Zealand’s gaming behaviour found that 67% of New Zealanders played digital games. Another study tracking internet use in New Zealand found those aged 16 – 29 played the most online games (Gibson, Miller, Smith, Bell, & Crother, 2013). Those that played games were playing over an hour each day, up from an hour every other day in 2010 (Brand & Todhunter, 2016).

The reason why people are playing games is also changing. While those studied said that they used games first and foremost as a means of entertainment, 23% said they have used games for work training and 38% had played games for the school curriculum others had turned to games for health and wellbeing (Brand & Todhunter, 2016).The population is beginning to accept that games can serve more of a purpose then just entertainment.

Digital natives tend to get bored by traditional learning. (Van Eck, Digital Game-based Learning: It’s Not just the Digal Natives who Are Restless, 2006). According to researchers their learning style may be well matched for digital games. “They require multiple streams of information, prefer inductive reasoning want frequent and quick interaction with content, and have exceptional visual literacy skills’ (Van Eck, 2006). Which is in line with the result of the Auckland Household Waste Minimisation study (2013) which found that 16-29 year olds preferred to learn about waste minimisation through self-directed online  methods as opposed to offline methods such as attending workshops and presentation, reading  brochures  or visiting the library.

Digital Game Based Learning

Digital games have been increasingly identified for their education purpose.  Research has now shown that they not only promote general education skills but also curriculum specific learning outcomes (Van Eck, 2015).

In a study of the effectiveness of digital games over traditional teaching methods digital games out performed lectures in all instances.

‘Video games can yield a 7 to 40% positive learning increase over a lecture program. What’s more, there may be additional benefits to poor learners: One variant of the River City ecology game diminished the learning gap between D and B students to the point where nearly all students were performing at the B-student level’ (Mayo, 2009).

Of course not all games deliver the same educational outcomes, and it is clear that there are well designed games and badly designed games.

Good games and games for good

What makes a good game and what sort of game would be best to teach waste minimisation?

Author James Paul Gee in his article Good Video Games and Good learning (2005) points to sixteen learning principles that he believes to be identifiers of a good game. ‘Good video games incorporate good learning principles supported by current research in cognitive science’ (Gee, 2005).

Gee states that a good game can both challenge and consolidate learning while scaffolding the learning process. Students learn at their own pace, mastering skills which they consolidate through repetition (Gee, 2005). Student of all ability can participate and succeed at their own pace.

Gee points out those good games are not played in solitude but can encourage team work and peer support. Gee uses World of War Craft, as an example, players play in teams, utilizing each other’s specialisation ‘to integrate and coordinate with each other’ (Gee, 2005).Gee also believes that good games allow players to ‘perform before competence’ they are allowed to play and practice and fail with the ‘support of others, more advance players’ (Gee, 2005). Other learning principles identified include: Risk taking, customisation, well ordered problems, systems thinking and pleasantly frustrating.


You can already find variety of games online with an environmental theme. Many of these games would not satisfy Gee’s sixteen principles of a good game. Instead they would more likely fall into the edutainment category, digital versions of simple sorting games with questionable educational value.

Recycle Roundup

Recycle Roundup

Simple flash games like National Geographic Kids Recycling Roundup may be a good introduction for the very young to teach about recycling but lacks higher level concepts. Why should we recycle? What are the real world consequences of ones behaviour if they don’t reduce their waste?

Clean up the River

Clean up the River

Clean up the River a game by Clean up Australia is billed as ‘an interactive recycling game for primary aged students that aims to stimulate kids to learn about the impact of rubbish on their local river system’ (Clean up Australia, 2017). Though the game doesn’t claim to teach about recycling but merely ‘stimulate learning’ it is more a test of hand eye coordination then a learning tool.

Off the Shelf Commercial Games

Games that already have commercial success could be used to teach about waste minimisation. Examples of such games include SimCity and Minecraft which primary purpose is to entertain but have been adapted by developers or users. These games could potentially be used to teach about waste minimisation because they are both customisable with proven games design.

SimCity Edu

SimCity Edu

Sim City is a popular game series that has been around since 1989.  Like Minecraft developers have created an educational version. SimCity Edu: Pollution Challenge is a game based on the original SimCity and developed by Glass Lab. As the Mayor of a simulated city players must keep their citizens happy while keeping pollution down and maintaining a healthy planet. The game teaches the cause and effect of pollution and waste while navigating real wold challenges. The game claims to develop players ability to ‘problem solve, read and interpret data and understand complex system’ while learning ‘next generation science and 21st century skills’ (Games for Change, 2017).

In the trailer for SimCity EDU we can observe some of Gee’s principles in action. The students are engaged, working collaboratively to solve simulations of real world problems. The game is scaffolded allowing the students to master the basic before it becomes more challenging. The game also appears to evoke emotions and empathy in the students with one girl saying she feels bad for the people of the city. While another student says he wants to play the game not just at school but at home.



Minecraft is a sandbox game, allowing players to create and build within their own world. The game has several different modes and activities including multiplayer. The player also has the ability to modify or ‘mod’ the game. There is no doubt that Minecraft is a hugely successful game, it became the second bestselling video game of all games after selling over 121 million copies. Some of this popularity has arisen from the culture built around the game (Wikipedia, 2017). Sites like YouTube and Reddit popularised Minecraft by sharing user generated commentary and walkthroughs (Wikipedia, 2017).

This YouTube video is an example of user generated video commentary as well as modification of the game. In the video a player has created a ‘mod’ in Minecraft that lets you recycle or ‘uncraft’ items. A player can turn something they have collected in the game that they no longer want into it a usable natural resource. This is an example of not only a good game with customisation and collaboration, but also one that can teach the fundamentals of zero waste education.

Minecraft EDU

Minecraft also has an education edition Minecraft EDU which curriculum linked lesson plans. Teachers are also able to adapt the games to meet there own curriculum need.

Minecraft and the Keep it in the Ground Campaign

Minecraft teamed up with The Guardian’s Keep it in the Ground campaign which is highlights the global fuel divestment movement. They used Minecraft to teach about climate change, creating a low carbon city in Minecraft. Much like Council needing a different approach for its younger population The Guardian engaged a new audience by telling the story of climate change in a new medium (The Guardian, 2014) .

Social Impact Games

Just as The Guardian saw the potential of Minecraft to teach a new audience about climate change, organisations have begun to see the potential of games to promote social change. Unlike the commercial off the shelf games developed for entertainment value these game are developed to address or even solve important issues and encourage desirable behaviours. In Persuasive Technology, Fogg (2002)

argued that computers have the potential to influence behaviour because technology could not only make change easier it also allowed people to see the consequence of their actions. Similar to Gees (2005) ‘perform before competence’, players could test and try out different beliefs and ideologies they may not hold in the ‘real world.’  In a follow up report on people who played the collaborative simulation game ‘A World without Oil’ it was found that players had reported positive environmental behaviour change including planting vegetable gardens and converting their cars to biodiesel (The Guardian, 2012). Social impact games can evoke powerful emotion just as the girl playing SimCity Edu felt empathy for the people of her city; it allows the player to experience another reality in the safety of their own home.

Darfur is Dying

In take Action games’ Darfur is Dying players learn about the brutality of genocide in the Darfur region. While unable to make real changes to the situation in Darfur the games has raised awareness globally led to direct action from players through letter writing or donating to the cause (The Guardian, 2014).

Some of the key point’s identified in the in the trailer may explain the popularity of the game.  It involves collaborative game play, encourages connectivity and has activist tools woven into the game play so that players are not only learning about Darfur but how to take action.


Eco is an ambitious social impact game and uses the tag line ‘the power of video games put towards the political problem of climate change’. Eco is a fully simulated eco system where players must collaborate and co-exist with other players. Players must decide amongst themselves which resources to use to build their civilisation. However just like in the real world, resources are finite. While this game has only just been released, like Darfur is Dying it contains many of the elements of a good game and if it has commercial success may lead to real life behaviour change.

The Challenge

Digital games are a popular past time with New Zealanders aged 16-29. They play them for entertainment but they are also open to playing games to learn (Brand & Todhunter, 2016). Digital games have been shown to be an effective teaching tool (Van Eck, 2015). Increasingly games are being used to teach people about social issue but have also been shown to have the ability to bring about behaviour change and so have the potential to be important tools for wider social change (The Guardian, 2014). Whether it is an off the shelf commercial game or a social impact game designed specifically to its needs, the Auckland Council should explore using digital games to engage people aged 16-19 in positive waste minimisation behaviour.


Auckand Council. (2012). Auckland Waste Management and Minimsation Plan: Getting Auckland Waste Sorted. Auckland: Auckland Council.

Auckland Council. (2013). The Auckland Household Waste prevention study. Auckland: Neilsen.

Brand, J., & Todhunter, S. (2016). Digital New Zealand Report. NSW: IGEA.

Clean up Australia. (2017, 05 25). Clean up the River. Retrieved from Clean up Australia:

Fogg, B. (2002, December). Persausive Technology: Using Technology to change what we think and do. Ubiquity(5).

Games for Change. (2017, May 10). SimCity EDU. Retrieved from Game for Change:

Gee, J. P. (2005). Good Video Games and Good Learning. Phi Kappa Phi Forum, 8(2).

Gibson, A., Miller, M., Smith, P., Bell, A., & Crother, C. (2013). The Internet in New Zealand. AUT, Instiure of Culture, Discourse & communication. Auckland: AUT.

Mayo, M. (2009). Video Games: A Route to Large-Scale STEM Education? Science, 323(79).

Statistics New Zealand. (2017). Census quick stats about a place. Retrieved May 20, 2017, from Stats NZ:

The Guardian. (2012). Gaming is driving Social Change but we need more players.

The Guardian. (2014, June 12). Climate Hope City: how Minecraft can tell the story of climate change.

Van Eck, R. (2006). Digital Game-based Learning: It’s Not just the Digal Natives who Are Restless. Educause Review.

Van Eck, R. (2015). Digital Game-Based Learning: Still Restless, After All these Years. Educase, Retrieved from

Wikipedia. ( 2017, May 14). MineCraft. Retrieved from Wikipedia:

Part 3: Invitation

Part 3: Invitation

Inviting organisations, systems or workplaces to meet, respond & adopt the challenge of game-based learning.

In this section:

Master of Education (Knowledge Networks and Digital Innovation) developed by the
School of Information StudiesCharles Sturt University, 2017.
Charles Sturt University