Clayton, W. and Musselwhite, C.
Cycling and behaviour change: Using games to improve the experience for families.
University of the West of England.
Digital games and media are being harnessed for educational purposes, with some now being used to promote sustainable behaviour. Such approaches exploit current trends in technology use and the popularity of digital gaming to encourage new activities or to change people’s behaviour. Mission:Explore is a project that taps into this new area, and is focussed on encouraging children and young people to get out and explore their local area through posting online challenges – which participants take part in to score points, earn rewards, and unlock achievements. The innovation was driven by a pro-social motivation to get people engaging with ‘geography’ in its widest sense, and to encourage local community participation as a way of addressing contemporary social issues. The social diffusion of Mission:Explore is based around developing a user community of participants.
This research has focussed upon the potential of expanding the locations of the challenges posed by Mission:Explore to incorporate parts of the National Cycle Network (NCN), with the rationale being that this could be a motivating factor in encouraging greater use of the network, and consequently help in promoting cycling and active travel more generally. The aim of this research has been to explore the different ways in which families engage in game-playing, understand their current cycling behaviours, and explain how bringing the two together might be a motivating factor in encouraging them to cycle more and make greater use of the NCN routes in their area.
The findings from the study show that in line with existing research, there are two main motivations for families to play games together: the first (and strongest) is simply for fun; the second is that playing games together gives them time together as a family, which can sometimes be difficult to find when different family members have busy and varied activity schedules and diverse interests.
When asked about the notion of setting challenges along the national cycle network, there were several interesting suggestions of what families would like:
i) Challenges structured around the activity of cycling itself (i.e. instructional activities related to skills riding the bike, using gears, etc...). This was suggested as a way of increasing both adults and children’s confidence in using the bike, which was suggested as a significant barrier to families cycling more.
ii) Areas of cycle track engineered to be more physically exciting. Children and adults enjoyed the simple feeling of being on their bike, and the suggestion was that at points along a stretch of the route there could be the option to divert from the main, direct path and explore areas with ramps, berms, banked corners, chicanes, and other additions to make the experience more fun.
iii) Attractively landscaped areas at which to stop, rest, and explore along the route. Some of the participants enjoyed taking new routes for the adventure, however said that some structure to this would improve the experience. Areas that provide information about the route and challenges tailored to the local area would be welcomed. These should not be far off the track and should be clearly marked.
The key message to be taken from this research is that whilst playing games together was always seen as an enjoyable part of family life, there is a question as to how motivational adding a gaming element to the NCN would be in the context of encouraging greater use. The key barriers to greater use of the network identified were:
I) A lack of confidence on bikes (amongst adults, which could be passed to the children);
II) Concerns for safety linked to the fragmented nature of the network, and the need to cycle for a distance on-road to access car-free portions of the NCN (related to the previous point);
III) A lack of knowledge about how and where to cycle in the local area.
As such, it is unlikely that providing challenges alone will encourage families that do not cycle much (or at all) to get out there and use the NCN, because such an approach does not address these deeper-seated barriers.
However, for families that are already experienced and confident in cycling together, it was seen as a welcome addition to their more routine experiences of the NCN routes in the area. All parents that were interviewed were extremely enthusiastic about any efforts made to provide activities for them to do with their children, and from this perspective there is merit in improving NCN in the ways described above.
To summarise: Improving NCN routes through the addition of challenges or games en-route is not a quick-fix cure-all, however it could fit well into the current toolkit of approaches to improving cycling infrastructure, and further contribute to the NCN providing a more engaging, fun, and desirable cycling experience for users.
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