Symposium Ecogames: game research meets sustainability

This symposium, organised by the Utrecht Research Focus Area Game Research, brings together experts in the fields of game design and research, communication, media and urban studies, ethics, geosciences, data and computer science. It explores the psychological, social, cultural and institutional conditions of a transition to a sustainable society, and the role ecogames could play in such a transition.

More information about the programme can be found here. Also see our flyers (Ecogames and Game Research) and our Ecogames programma booklet. The speakers in alphabetical order are:

Societal impact of research

The Centre for the Humanities is the platform for interdisciplinary and interfaculty dialogue at Utrecht University. It functions as a critical think-tank on academic knowledge and the social relevance and the value of the Humanities in the contemporary world. CfH is a flexible and fast-moving instrument that is capable of mobilising human and material resources to address urgent contemporary questions. Therefore, CfH provides quick and timely interventions in the public debate, through a number of concrete target-oriented activities. 


Wiljan van den Akker is Vice-rector for Research and Director of the Centre for the Humanities, Utrecht University.

Imagination and the ethics of climate change

Climate change and other ecological challenges are forming a challenge for nearly all dimensions of our life. Possible solutions to those challenges can affect the structure of political institutions, the form of social relationships, the legal order and moral convictions. An ethical assessment of the possible changes presupposes awareness of the different possibilities a sustainable world could like. The ethics of climate change therefore necessarily presuppose imaginative sources to figure out how the future world could look like. The presentation will try to understand the importance of imagination for the ethical debate. 


Marcus Düwell holds a chair for philosophical ethics at Utrecht University.

Powersaver Game: Gamification in a household energy game

Research where gamification is used to influence household energy consumption is an emerging field. The aim of Powersaver Game is to influence household energy consumption in the long-term. The research project will give insight into what the influence of gamification is on energy consumption in households by means of electricity and gas usage and on attitudes towards sustainable energy use at home. Since our aim is an effective transfer between the game world and real world, we introduced gamification elements from the real world, by energy saving activities, in the game. Powersaver Game is used in a series of experiments. First, the game will be compared with a control (non-game) version. Next, features such as feedback, personal relevance and competition will be examined. 


Jan Dirk Fijnheer is PhD candidate Persuasive Games, Utrecht University and Senior Lecturer Utrecht University & Inholland University of Applied Sciences, Amsterdam.

Urban futures: The dynamics of imagination

Do cities merely evolve? Or are there ways in which our present behaviour can influence our urban futures? Is there, perhaps, even a way in which the past predetermines the routes taken? In his contribution Maarten Hajer explores the role of the imagination in urban futures in past and present.


Maarten Hajer is distinguished professor Urban Futures at Utrecht University.

The importance of characters for narrative impact

Naratives can influence people’s beliefs, attitudes, and behavior. An important driver of these effects is the extent to which an audience cares about a character’s wellbeing and values the character’s goals. I will discuss research showing that this type of character involvement can yield more intense emotions and have people adopt opinions and attitudes expressed by that character. I will also talk about research on what factors lead to becoming involved with a character.


Hans Hoeken holds the chair of Communication & Information Studies at Utrecht University.

Employment of gamification techniques for enhancing consumer's empowerment and  engagement in demand response mechanisms

The increasing share of intermittent renewable energy resources and the targets for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions pose enormous challenges for the reliable and economic operation of electrical power systems. These developments are calling for important changes in the European energy system, namely for more flexibility and collaboration, to ensure a reliable supply of electricity, economic operation, and the ability to cope with increasing electrification. In this presentation we will discuss how gamification techniques can be employed in order to contribute to the development of demand response mechanisms that meet social acceptance and avoid blockages.


Ioannis Lampropoulos Copernicus Institute for Sustainable Development, Utrecht University.

Using games to inform the environment and aid in city-making

The challenges of 21st century city-making require innovative methods that incorporate the complexity of today’s rapidly urbanising world. Gaming and playful design carry unexplored potentials for city-making, which is crucial in building sustainable urban futures. In their talks, Ekim Tan and Michiel de Lange address the question how can play become a platform to close the communication gap between experts and support informed decision-making, and how play informs a people-centric view of smart city making. They will do so by drawing on their recent collaboration in the project Games for Cities. 


Michiel de Lange (PhD) is an Assistant Professor in New Media Studies, Department of Media and Culture Studies, Utrecht University; and co-founder of The Mobile City, a platform for the study of new media and urbanism.

Designing games for peak shaving water usage with smart meters

For Vitens, the country's largest water company, Grendel Games designed the Wijk & Water Battle. This game was developed in 2015 as the world's first IOT-game that actually has game play directly related to in- and output from the water network in real-time. Microsoft has sponsored the project. The prototype campaign was successful in achieving its goals. 2017 will see a completely new campaign that will run with adjustments made to make it even more successful. In this session Grendel Games will elaborate on design decisions, project goals and future plans that expand the project into the realm of energy with new partners.


Tim Laning is founder & commercial director of Grendel Games.

The power of storytelling

In his contribution, Tim Murck presents the project Hemelswater (Heavenswater). This project of brewing beer with rain water started as a campaign for Amsterdam Rainproof to make citizens aware of problems of heavy rainfall and take action to increase the city’s sponge capacity, so that rainwater is absorbed and used instead of causing flash floods. Hemelswater seems like a disruptive idea, but when Spektor researched it, they found out that already in the Middle Ages, Dutch breweries were set up near churches and cathedrals to catch rainwater runoff from their roofs. With rainwater it is possible to make beer cleaner and tastier. At this moment, thousands of bottles containing Hemelswater beer are sold a week, and tens of breweries want to join the Hemelswater movement. Hemelswater won the ASN Bank Worldprice Sustainable Energy and the HORECAVA Overall Innovation Award.


Tim Murck is Strategic Lead at Spektor, creative storytelling agency.

Networked Content Analysis: The Case of Climate Change

Content analysis has been developed within communication science as a technique to analyse bodies of texts for features or (recurring) themes, in order to identify cultural indicators, societal trends and issues. In her presentation, Sabine Niederer proposes that networked content analysis applied to the Web includes hyperlink analysis (which itself is informed by scientometrics) and resonance analysis that works with search engines. Her focus is on climate change, which she investigates across various platforms (such as Wikipedia and Twitter).


Sabine Niederer AUAS, School of Digital Media and Creative Industries, Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences.

Everything you always wanted to know about the Sustainable Futures Hub, but were afraid to ask

At Heidelberglaan 8 a brand new Sustainable Futures Hub has been opened, housing Green Office Utrecht, the Sustainability Program Team, Utrecht Sustainability Institute and Urban Futures Studio. What’s the purpose of this hub? What exactly is the Green Office doing? And what’s in it for you? Anjelle Rademakers will tell you all the ins and outs of the Hub and how you can make use of it.


Anjelle Rademakers is Manager Green Office, Utrecht University.

Collapsus, or how to make players become ecological citizens

Climate and energy policies and measures rank high on both the societal as well as political agenda. But at the same time, only a very small number of Dutch citizens consider climate change to be an important societal problem. Raising awareness, reinforcing ecological attitudes and behaviour and stimulating collaborative environmental decision making are core challenges of our time. In his presentation, Joost Raessens examines how ecological games – such as Collapsus: Energy Risk Conspiracy (Submarine 2010) – seek to contribute to ecological thought and make people become ecological citizens. 


Joost Raessens is professor of Media Theory at Utrecht University.

Games don't design themselves: How to design for effective behaviour change?

Behaviour change design has much to gain with the integration of insights from social psychology in the design process. Similarly, behavioural scientists can greatly benefit from adopting designerly methods to make sure their strategies 'work' in a broad range of user contexts. This integration needs to be done carefully without hampering the creative process nor the scientific validity of the persuasive ‘product’. In this contribution a model (Persuasive by Design) and tool (The Behavioural Lenses) are presented that contribute to the design of evidence-based behaviour change services and products. The model and tool offer possibilities to enhance user research and concept development by informing designs with principles central to the behavioural sciences.


Reint Jan Renes Research Group Crossmedia Communication in the Public Domain, Utrecht University of Applied Sciences.

Games for Healthy Urban Living 

Monique works as a senior researcher on Serious Games and Smart Technology for Healthy Urban Living. She works both for the municipality Utrecht as for Utrecht University, aiming to bridge the gap between science and policy. In her presentation she will give an overview of her studies on how serious games and game strategies can be harnessed for promoting a healthy lifestyle. For example: Active video games to promote physical activity; Serious games to prevent overweight in children; Mobile games and sensors to promote physical activity in public spaces.


Monique Simons Department of Human Geography and Spatial Planning, Utrecht University.

Using games to inform the environment and aid in city-making

The challenges of 21st century city-making require innovative methods that incorporate the complexity of today’s rapidly urbanising world. Gaming and playful design carry unexplored potentials for city-making, which is crucial in building sustainable urban futures. In their talks, Ekim Tan and Michiel de Lange address the question how can play become a platform to close the communication gap between experts and support informed decision-making, and how play informs a people-centric view of smart city making. They will do so by drawing on their recent collaboration in the project Games for Cities. 


Ekim Tan (PhD) is the founder of Play the City, an Amsterdam and Istanbul based city consultancy firm that helps governments and market parties effectively collaborate with stakeholders. 

Motivating more sustainable behaviour through gamification

Everybody agrees that sustainable behaviour is something that is important and worth doing. Yet, it often becomes an empty promise, like a New Year’s resolution. In this presentation, Fons Verhoef from Organiq will explain how gamification is the answer in motivating people to actually change their behaviour. He will demonstrate this clearly through two of Organiq’s products: From5to4 and LOI Kidzz Thuistrainer


Fons Verhoef is Gamification & Interaction Analyst.

Game co-design for sustainable futures

Joost Vervoort approaches games from his experience in using foresight for decision-making. From this perspective, games offer great potential for foresight in a sustainability context. He focuses specifically on the collaborative design of games as a mode of inquiry. Game co-design combines the analytical strengths of participatory modelling and the experiential possibilities of interactive scenario storytelling, and in addition, offers specific opportunities for identification with and immersion in future perspectives and for the shared experimentation with challenges and solutions. 


Joost Vervoort is Assistant Professor of Foresight for Environmental Governance at the Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development, Utrecht University, and Senior Researcher at the Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford.