“E-games-lab: eFargo is one of few research efforts that gamifies carbon reductions in the built environment, and it does so through creative characters and storytelling. It has the potential to engage communities of all ages and backgrounds in a simple game with a huge impact.” —Juror Avideh Haghighi
The e-games-lab: eFargo initiative conceptualizes the North Dakota city of Fargo as a board game, where the city and individual buildings can be “played” to reduce carbon emissions and energy use to fight climate change. In the game—developed by University of Minnesota associate professor Malini Srivastava, AIA, in collaboration with North Dakota State University (and initiated as part of her dissertation at Carnegie Mellon University)—architects play a key role, empowering participants through education in how to reduce carbon emissions and energy usage.
More than 6,000 K–12 students and other community members have played. Schools typically reduce energy use by up to 15% within three to nine weeks, with savings continuing even after game play concludes. Participating homes see an average savings of 8%, with winning homes seeing as much as 46% savings.
As they understand the physical issues surrounding carbon emissions and energy usage, students learn to locate problems in their immediate environment and “tag” them as “monsters.” Monsters engage various issues: heating and cooling, water waste, food waste, daylight, emissions, and devices. Game play includes “Waste-a-Watt,” a greedy supervillain who gains strength when energy is wasted but can be captured by players by reducing energy usage. Occupants identify and tag problems through virtual and physical tagging. As players accumulate points, trees are earned and planted in the physical city.
In 2017, eFargo was put to a real-world test when it entered (and won) the nationwide Georgetown University Energy Prize, a competition open to American cities with populations between 5,000 and 250,000 people. The partnership between the research team, the City of Fargo, local utilities, and public school districts successfully lowered energy use and carbon emissions by 11% over two years.
More recently, with seed funding provided by an AIA Upjohn Research Initiative grant, Srivastava and her collaborators are developing a version called “Zero.”
“We are asking community members to tag any buildings in their city with specifics of energy or environmental waste problems that they know about,” she says. “The game becomes a way for the public to communicate with building owners to address the environmental impact they are creating on the public environment.” Hopefully, Srivastava adds, the game will result in the hiring of architects and engineers to help them address and remove these public tags.
We may soon find ourselves “playing” the game with clearly tangible benefits for all.
Project Leads for Research, Design & Management: Dr. Malini Srivastava, AIA (University of Minnesota) & Prof. Cindy Urness, AIA (NDSU)
Project Lead for Technology & Design: Peter Atwood & Troy Raisanen (2015-2018), Dr Yang Song (2017-2020)
City of Fargo leaders (2015 - 2019): Mike Williams and Dan Mahli
Project Designers and Researcher Fellows (UMN and NDSU): 2021-2022: Java Nyamjav, Karianna Larson, Aaron Yang and Kai Chen; 2020-2021: Yunha Seo 2019-2020: Philp Reim, Noor Abdelhamid 2017-2019: Dylan Neururer, Ian Schimke, Greta Berens, Nick Braaksma; 2015-2017: Amber Grindeland, Mike Christenson, Mackenzie Lyseng
University of Minnesota and North Dakota State University teams: Dr Huojun Yang, Dr Rajesh Kavasseri, Dr Anne Denton, Ben Dalton, Noah Thompson, Tanner Naastad, Sarah Biesterveld, Keira Rachac, Aaron Warner, Alex Jansen, Amy McDonald, Amy Mueller, Peter Mueller, Josh Highley, Krstina Heggedal, Kristina Kaupa, Mackenzie Lyseng, Mitch Nagel, Nate Wallestad, Rachel Grider, Ryan Gapp, Ryan Gram, Rachel Marsh, Sarak Watson, Samantha Marihart, Taylor Schuman, Olivia Mauk, Chufue Yang, Mikayla McVay, Meghan Gahlman, Petra Jungbluth, Haley Schraufnagel, Maura MacDaniel, Qi Heng Lee, Erick Bickler.
Funding: ND Department of Commerce, State Energy Program, Department of Energy, Edyth and Archibald Bush Foundation of Minnesota, City of Fargo grant, AIA Upjohn Research Grant.
Community partners: Fargo Public School, Xcel Energy, Cass County Electric Cooperative, City of Fargo.