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Water Environmental Game

The Challenge

Taiwan has long been categorized as a country suffering from water shortages. The acquisition of knowledge and development of the concept of water conservation, and the development water conservation habits, are considered a civic responsibility of the citizens.  The purpose of the study was to utilize an immersive virtual environment technology (IVET) to create virtual experiences that expose individuals to vivid information with personal relevance and immediacy in hopes of increasing the behavior intention to conserve water.

The Outcome

We develop an effective intervention for individuals to increase awareness of personal relevancy (cause) and vivid consequences (effect) through a persuasive experience simulated by immersive virtual environment technology (IVET - developed by Unity 3D, VIVE, and Kinect). A mediated virtual experience was provided in the form of an experiential learning game, in which participants were situated in a virtual bathroom and asked to repeatedly use a 600-milliliter bottle to fill a specific water tank to flush a toilet and take a one-minute shower. While consuming the water resources, participants received exaggerated feedback (EF) to intensify the negative consequences of water consumption and environmental damage that emphasized personal affective responses.

Publication | 2018 Journal of Educational Technology & Society, 21(4)

Time

Aug 2016 – Jul 2017

Role

UIX Designer
Game Developer
3D Render Engineer

Collaborators

Zong-Han Wu
Feng Wu

Psychological Design

01 | Unnoticeable Cause

Environmental degradation is hard to observe directly and immediately. This uncertain future consequence of the environment creates little personal concern for water as a scarce resource and lowers people’s intention to care about the water conservation.

Solution  |  Personal relevance to problem

These feedback strategies focus on the outcomes of the specific activities to clarify to individuals that they can influence them. When individuals know how to achieve the modifications, they feel more strongly responsible for the problem and are more willing to effect change.

Design  |  Consume water in bathroom

The virtual bathroom, including a toilet, shower, and faucet, that was built in the game. In the game, participants were required to exhaust the water in the virtual bathroom for flushing the toilet and taking a shower, after which they received feedback on their water consumption. The design was intended to present a clear connection between specific habitual activities and water consumption to increase the participants’ awareness of how their customary behaviors are related to environmental problems.

02 | Abstract Consumption

The use of the natural resources is abstract. This abstraction leads to cognitive complexity, which causes people commonly to underestimate the actual amount of resource consumption.

Solution  |  Vivid information of effect

In resource conservation policies, the vivid effect, or solid abstract information, can significantly accelerate individual understanding of the actual consumption and make messages more persuasive. Depicting the energy usage in terms of the amount of deforestation or displaying water usage over a year as a number of swimming pools renders the consumption based on factual knowledge more salient.

Design  |  Represent consumption & Deplete physical strength

To make the amount of daily water use more concrete, we utilized 600-milliliter bottles and the consumption of physical energy to represent feedback on water consumption. In the game, a central water reservoir stored the water resource, and numerous virtual bathrooms were located in the oasis. The water could be used after being drawn to a water-storage tank in the virtual bathrooms.

To build a water scarcity environment, water could be drawn if the assistant in the game, the other player, repeated the physical motion of pumping to fill the water-storage tank. Players in one of the bathrooms were allowed one minute to use a 600-milliliter bottle repeatedly to transfer water from a water storage tank to specific water tanks for flushing the toilet and taking a one-minute shower. After the tasks, the actual water consumption of each activity was visualized as multiple 600-milliliter bottles.

03 | Temporal Distance

The daily consumption of water and energy is unnoticeable. With the insulation of modern people from the environment, individuals cannot easily perceive the excessive resource usage of their personal habitual behaviors.

Solution  |  Immediacy of the consequence

Immediacy is an attribute of visualization that makes longer-term consequences seem nearer-term through accelerating time. This approach can provide information about the cumulative negative impact on the environment of activities such as water or energy over consumption as conspicuous signals that individuals rarely observe directly or immediately.

Design  |  Exaggerated feedback

The exaggerated feedback was intended to convey the concept that an individual may unconsciously cause negative consequences, which is hard to be aware of while using water in daily life. Two types of exaggerated feedback were considered:1. Negative impact on environment feedback:Shrinking of the oasis due to the drop in the water level of the water reservoir. 2. Negative impact on consumption:The rapid consumption and exaggerated drop in the water level.

Game Flow

Screenshot of the series of missions in the virtual bathroom:(a) directions for toilet flushing task (b) toilet flushing task (c) presentation of actual consumption of toilet flushing as bottles (d) directions for washing hand task (e) washing hand task (f) directions for shower task (g) one-minute shower task (h) presentation of the actual consumption of a one-minute shower as bottles.

Game Installation

In this study, ahead-mounted display system with two integrated hand controllers (HTC VIVE) and a motion sensing input device (Microsoft Kinect) were used, and the virtual game was programmed in the Unity and Steam VR toolkit.

Head-mounted display

While wearing the head-mounted display, the participants experienced a three-dimensional environment from a first-person perspective. The head orientation and position of the participants were tracked by two sensors mounted on the ceiling, so the participants could look and walk around the virtual environment with natural physical movements. To intensify the immersion, stereophonic sound effects, including water flowing and realistic sounds of the desert, were also provided through the earphones.

Motion sensing input device

A motion sensing input device was used to detect the physical motions of the game assistant in real time. The game assistant stood at a distance from the device that allowed the device to track the assistant’s movements. Meanwhile, the assistants could view the perspective of the main player on a 27-inch display.

Validation

We validate the virtual reality game in the National Taiwan Science Education Center to inspire 800 students’ understanding of water conservation. There were five measures in this study : cognition of daily water consumption, attitude toward water usage, self-reported behavior intention to conserve water, extent of tightening of the virtual faucet, and presence in the virtual environment.

The first three items were measured before the virtual game (Time 1, pretest) and one month later (Time 2, delayed posttest). The other two items were measured and recall of the virtual experience was tested after the participants had finished the virtual game. The questionnaire was self-developed under the guidance of researchers or according to previous research.

Positive effects of the virtual reality game

We compared personal levels of cognitive, affective, and behavioral responses to water conservation issues one month after the mediated virtual experience with outcomes from the pretest. Overall, the vivid and personally relevant experience enhanced students’ cognition, attitude, and behavior intentions by respectively 53.84%, 1.02%, and 4.17%. Significant positive effects on cognition regarding water consumption and behavior intention to conserve water were found.

Positive effects of exaggerated feedback

The results from this study show that ambient EF and accelerated environmental degradation directly caused by personal behavior can stimulate a pro-water-conservation attitude and behavior intention.

“The situation in the virtual game could happen in the near future, so we should be more engaged in water conservation.”
“Quite shocking! It made me understand the inconvenience in a water shortage area.”