Greening the World of Warcraft?

A researcher details the ways in which online multiplayer games can reflect and reward real-world eco-friendly behavior

Online gaming has a real-life environmental impact, whether through a computer’s energy usage or the power-hungry server farms owned by game companies. But a media expert at the University of Stanford has suggested harnessing the allure of online multiplayer games such as World of Warcraft for the greener good.

Byron Reeves sketched a scenario where a player might get in-game feedback from a smart meter which records energy usage in the house. Turn off the lights, and the game takes note and rewards you accordingly.

“If I’m using less electricity, my team might do well; I get goal pieces and points, whatever the game designers think is fun,” Reeves told Living on Earth. “In other words, you get feedback in an entertainment game about what you’re doing in the real world.”

Granted, games such as the Wii Fit already encourage people to make real-life changes to their bodies. But it’s one matter to design a game around a real-world goal such as physical fitness, and another to latch energy conservation onto an entertainment juggernaut such as World of Warcraft.

It could work. People already invest massive amounts of time and money into earning virtual rewards, even if it’s just an in-game title to wear.

Case in point: I’m far behind other World of Warcraft players, thanks to meeting RL (real life) writing deadlines. Still, I took recently precious time from my work in order to run around slaying 15 virtual turkeys in three minutes, and all for an in-game achievement named “Friend or Fowl?”.

So, bring on the eco-friendly multiplayer games of the future. I personally look forward to having new achievements that reward real-life gaming – er, greening – and don’t earn me kill-on-sight status among D.E.H.T.A. (Warcraft’s tongue-in-cheek take on P.E.T.A. ).