Changing Behavior with Positive Reinforcement: Speed Camera, Lottery and Beyond

Changing Behavior with Positive Reinforcement: Speed Camera, Lottery and Beyond


Kevin Richardson of MTV began his talk with a look at Volkswagen’s Fun Theory Contest. After seeing an add featuring “the deepest trash can in the world,” (a garbage can outfitted with a sensor that triggers when trash is deposited and echos the sound of something falling very far and clanging to the bottom.) Richardson knew he wanted to come up with the next idea. Luckily, Volkswagen was holding a contest to this very end!

The trash can concept was good, it was funny, people seemed to like it, plus it motivated people to clean up their trash – a primary tenet of the game, incentivizing a positive social change. Richardson thought of one idea for getting families to stand in a safe area at a bus or train station – lights and fun noises would be triggered the more people that could be motivated to move into place. But he ended up going with a concept that asked, Will people slow down for bikers if it’s fun? Thus was born the Speed Camera Lottery. By pooling the fines of people who were speeding, law abiders could win some of that pooled money in a lottery.

Richardson won Volkswagen’s contest and the game was played in Sweden. By the end of the experiment, the average speed in that intersection decreased by 22%.

What Richardson discovered in the process of developing his game is that he had to consider that everyone is the protagonist in their own life. They have their own cast of characters and their own drama. It’s good to target people in this way- to consider who they are and who they think they are. Also think about the antagonists. Who are they? The Government who sets the speed limits? The bikers who get in the way?

Reality, says Richardson, is a great work of fiction. You have to engage and activate individuals in a physical way. Get people to actually get up and do things.

He shows a video that shows how fun can encourage a little boy to lift the toilet seat: Gluing pictures to the other side, writing messages. Over 9 visits to the toilet, the seat was lifted 4 times. A big improvement for this particular child.

Richardson brings up some major world problems and suggests that games and game mechanics might be the key to solving them.

He ends with a call to arms, “Let’s make things better through games, story and fun!” he says.


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