EcoRace: How a Board Game Can Influence Eco-Friendly Car Purchases

By Paul Choi and Miguel Garrido

For several decades, motor vehicles have been a major source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and pollution in the US. According to the EPA, in 2015 the transportation sector accounted for about 27 percent of total U.S. GHG emissions, second only to the electricity sector. Scientists have long emphasized the adverse effects of vehicle emissions, since GHG emissions cause global warming and drive climate change. Accordingly, U.S. public policy has in recent years aimed to increase the fuel efficiency of motor vehicles.

Yet the effects of vehicle emissions on human health remain significant. Air pollution poses a major risk to public health, and major studies have established a strong link between vehicle emissions and illnesses such as asthma, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and lung cancer. However, consumer surveys indicate that most car buyers don’t consider these health effects when making purchasing decisions.

Moreover, fuel efficiency ranked 8th out of the top 10 factors that consumers consider when buying cars. This is troubling given that the fuel economy of a vehicle is a high-leverage point that can substantially reduce tailpipe emissions and thus improve public health.

EcoRace: A Board Game to Influence Car-Buying Decisions

We designed a board game called EcoRace to address the two primary problems outlined above. First, fuel efficiency is currently not one of the primary factors that consumers take into account when buying a new car. Second, although the effects of vehicle emissions on global warming have been well publicized, the impact on human health remains unclear or unknown to a lot of people.

EcoRace is a game played with two teams of two players each (it is cooperative among teammates yet competitive among teams). Each team has six cars (3 cars per player) of different fuel efficiencies: low, medium, and high. The objective of the game is to get all six cars to the finish line before the other team.

The rules of the game are simple: first, one player chooses a car to move and rolls the die. The player then moves the car on the board by the number displayed on the die multiplied by the MPG of the car (1 for low, 2 for medium, and 3 for high fuel efficiency). Then a player from the second team choose a car to move and rolls the die, and teams take turns in this way to move around the blocks.

To promote cooperation among teammates, players can choose to move two cars together if they land on the same square (this is an analogy to carpooling in the real world). Hence, strategic decisions about moving specific cars and waiting for your teammate to go move together occur throughout the game.

Additionally, the game includes 12 specific “Chance” blocks, which require the player that lands on them to pick up a Chance Card and read the instructions. The Chance Cards are data-driven and provide impactful statistics on the health effects of vehicles emissions. They reward fuel efficient cars and punish low fuel economy cars.

Audience and goals

The primary audience for this board game is young millennials who are considering buying a new car. We picked this demographic because their car-buying behavior can yield important insights about the future of vehicle emissions in this country. On one hand, studies indicate that the recent recession, coupled with the meltdown of the auto industry in 2009 and the rise of ride-hailing apps such as Uber, caused a stark decline in car ownership rates among millennials. Yet on the other hand, recent data indicate that millennials aren’t ditching car ownership altogether – they are simply delaying it.

However, surveys indicate that the health impacts of vehicle emissions, and fuel efficiency in general, are not key factors that millennials take into account when making purchasing decisions. Instead, they focus on features such as navigation system, satellite radio, Bluetooth, and mobile integration.

Our goals for EcoRace are thus threefold, each corresponding to a different time horizon. In the short run, we hope that millennials who play this game will understand the link between vehicle emissions and health problems. We believe this link is critical to making fuel efficiency a key buying factor, since that is the primary mechanism though which tailpipe emissions (and adverse health effects) can be reduced.

Our medium-term goal for EcoRace is to actually influence eco-friendly car-buying decisions among millennials. Specifically, we aim to make fuel efficiency a top factor (at least in the top 3 features) that they consider when buying a vehicle. In the long term, our hope is that millennials will choose to drive their fuel-efficient cars less and even ditch gasoline cars altogether, instead opting for electric cars or public transportation (our final thoughts below expand on this idea).

Data: Making heath information central to the game

As mentioned above, the health impact of vehicle emissions is the key theme of EcoRace, and we chose to make the health information central to the game by directly incorporating it into the Chance Cards, thus influencing the actual decisions that players make when moving their pieces along the board. An example of a chance card is:

Hazardous air pollutants (toxics) have been linked to birth defects, cancer, and other serious illnesses. The EPA estimates that the air toxics emitted from cars and trucks account for 50% of all cancers caused by air pollution. Your vehicle missions have contributed to increased cancer rates in your community.

If your fuel efficiency is low:  go back 3 spaces

If your fuel efficiency is medium:  go back 2 spaces

If your fuel efficiency is high, go back 1 space

Our chance cards cover a broad range of health impacts associated with vehicle emissions, from asthma to cardiovascular disease to diabetes to lung cancer, all summarized in a data-driven manner.

Testing the game

We tested EcoRace internally first, simulating several games using an early prototype to iterate and improve the pedagogical experience of the game. We then tested the game with four real players (from our target audience of millennials interested in buying a car in the near future). First, the players played a version of the game that was purely competitive (one vs. one), which did yield insights into the learning impact of the Chance Cards (understanding the link between vehicle emissions and human health, and incorporating fuel efficiency into purchasing criteria). However, the competitive aspect of the game did not enable us to promote cooperation, which more broadly speaks to the idea that working and coordinating with others (e.g. carpooling) can be a very effective means of reducing vehicle emissions.

As such, in our second round of testing, we incorporated a cooperative aspect to the game. Now two players would be assigned to each team, and each team would have to work together to strategize their moves along the way (e.g. which cars to move first, which squares to try to land on in order to carpool, etc.). We tested this second version of the game with four players and found that participants directly took into account the benefits of carpooling (e.g. moving two cars at the same time in this context) while still learning about the health impacts of different fuel efficiency levels among their cars. In the end, players viewed their least efficient cars as a nuisance and wished they could only drive cars with a high gas mileage.

To measure the success (or failure) of our game, we performed a simple pre-post interview to gauge the participants’ views regarding fuel efficiency. First, before they even knew what game they were going to play, we asked them to name the car they were most likely to buy (at least the general type) in the near future. Second, after they played one round of the game, we asked them the same question. According to our interviews, all of them said that fuel efficiency would likely be a key purchasing factor. Two of the interviewees even mentioned that learning about the adverse health impact of vehicle emissions would influence their future car-buying decisions, since they were thinking of having children soon.

Benefits of the game and concluding thoughts

EcoRace is a game designed to influence eco-friendly car buying by linking the adverse health effects of vehicle emissions to fuel efficiency. We believe it is effective because it promotes and rewards cooperation, raises awareness about fuel economy and its effects on public health, and provides data-driven mini-stories (in the form of Chance Cards) as part of a broader narrative (making it from home to the beach, which is the finish line in the game). It does so in a playful manner that still retains the key concepts we want millennials to understand about fuel efficiency.

As possible next steps, EcoRace can be improved in several ways. First, the link between the cars in the game to those in real life can be strengthened. Specifically, different car profiles can be developed that correspond to actual vehicle and truck types that consumers can buy, rather than abstract objects that simply have fuel efficiency levels of low, medium, and high. Second, more testing can be done to identify the target audience for this game. Millennials may be too broad a term, and the game may be more effective if we targeted a narrowly defined user (such as kids of a certain age range). Third, the game itself would have to be adopted by key customers in our target sector in order to actually make a difference. These are all possible directions that future enhancements can take with respect to EcoRace. However, we believe the version we’ve developed presents an effective and innovative way of influencing eco-friendly car-buying decisions.

Slide presentation located here

Data Sources:





Marching for a Better Tomorrow

By Paul Choi, Miguel Garrido, and Lawrence Sun

For several years now, the goal of stopping the planet from warming an additional two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels has dominated international climate talks. According to scientific projections, a “no action scenario” may lead to 4.5C of warming by 2100, so it is imperative to pursue the under-2C path by the end of the century. With climate change, a few degrees can make a significant difference.

However, it can be difficult for the average person to understand the meaning of a couple of degrees in terms of long-term climate change scenarios. Some may wonder what the big deal is with 4.5 degrees, or how that differs from 2 degrees. For some people, this lack of understanding or knowledge may be a barrier to taking more action on climate change.

To address this issue, we designed a flyer that tells a story to contrast two possible climate change scenarios (2C vs. 4.5C) in order to educate and incentivize people to make a personal commitment to combat climate change. In particular, our flyer is designed to convince Boston residents to take part in the upcoming March for Science on April 22 (Earth Day).

Our Flyer: Using Qualitative Data to Personalize Climate Change

To make the 2C and 4.5C scenarios as concrete as possible for our target audience (Boston residents), we picked three different local attractions and illustrated the effects of climate change for each: 1) Back Bay (showing the effects of rising sea levels); 2) MIT campus (showing the effects of severe weather) and 3) whale watching (showing endangered animal life).

The three images at the bottom of the flyer correspond to the under-2C scenario and represent the “normal” Boston that residents know: the streets aren’t flooded, there is regular weather (normal snowfall), and whale watching is a popular tourist attraction. This is the scenario that would result from taking significant action to combat climate change.

The top three images, however, show the catastrophic 4.5C scenario using the same local landmarks and attractions: many streets are permanently flooded (canals have to be built), severe weather is a regular occurrence, and the whale population is severely threatened (beached whales are a lot more common). This is the scenario that would result from simply doing nothing (“business as usual”).

The key message of the flyer is that people must make a personal choice: if they march and take action on climate change, the under-2C scenario may be within reach. However, if they don’t march and don’t take action, the disastrous 4.5 scenario may become reality.


We believe our flyer is effective because it educates people about a concept that is difficult to grasp (small changes in the Earth’s temperature over time) by using relatable local landmarks and attractions to illustrate the impact of climate change. The flyer tells a compelling narrative that clearly contrasts two possible scenarios based on scientific projections. In doing so, it invites the viewer to make a personal choice and commitment to take part in the March for Science and combat climate change.

Granted, only participating in the march on April 22 will not lead to the 2C scenario. Climate change is an incredibly complex and difficult global challenge that requires fundamental changes in human behavior to combat its effects. However, people that aren’t currently taking action have to start somewhere, and the first step is awareness. To that end, we believe our flyer can play a small but critical role in educating and incentivizing people to combat climate change, starting in our community.


Could MIT Be Partly Underwater by the End of the Century?

By Paul Choi, Miguel Garrido, and Willie Zhu

In 2016, MIT celebrated 100 years in Cambridge. As the Institute reflected on this milestone, it also touted its bold initiatives for the 21st century and beyond. By most accounts, MIT’s second century in Cambridge will be even brighter than the first.

However, there is one aspect of MIT’s future that is less promising: its home (Cambridge, MA) could face calamitous consequences from climate change in the next century and beyond. Cambridge is situated by Charles River and the ocean, making the low-lying city highly vulnerable to changes in the sea level.

Carbon dioxide emissions cause global temperatures to rise, which in turn cause the polar ice sheets to melt. As a result, sea levels rise, and the first areas to be affected on a large scale are low-lying coastal cities. This is already happening around the world, but the sea levels haven’t risen enough – yet – to impact Cambridge.

But the future will change this quickly. The purpose of our data sculpture is to show our audience (MIT students) in a dramatic but accurate manner (based on scientific estimates) how climate change could impact the MIT campus and Cambridge in the future.

What the Data Say

The data say that the consequences of climate change on the greater Boston area are expected to be far more calamitous than previously thought. According to numerous scientific studies, sea levels could rise by as much as 10 feet in the Boston area by the end of the century. This drastic change in sea levels could mean that as much as 44 percent of Cambridge would be permanently submerged.

Since the MIT campus flanks the Charles River, the Institute would almost certainly be partly underwater (as much as 10 feet) by the end of the century or later, assuming a) current greenhouse gas emission rates remain unchanged; and b) no steps are taken to control sea levels (through geoengineering or other means).

Data Sculpture

To make the impact of climate change as relatable as possible to our target audience (MIT students), we created a 3D model of the MIT Dome and placed it in a plastic cube.

Our data sculpture consists of two interactive steps.

First, we filled the cube with liquid (PowerAde) to the 10-ft mark (in proportion to the Dome model) to illustrate what could happen if we don’t take steps to curb greenhouse gas emissions, raise awareness, or control the rise in sea levels.

The second step involved asking a different but related question: if the sea levels in Cambridge rise by 10 feet, what percentage of dry, habitable land in the city would be underwater? The answer, according to studies, is about 44 percent (the share of population was unavailable). Hence, for this step we changed the scale to the percentage of Cambridge underwater (0 to 100%) and filled the cube to the 44% mark. This represents a different way of looking at the data and reinforces the notion that a sizable share of the city would be permanently submerged due to climate change.


We want to tell this story because we believe that a simple sculpture like the submerged MIT Dome building can serve as a powerful symbol to raise awareness and induce action. Climate change is often difficult for people to grasp and act on (regardless of educational levels) because its impacts are distant in both time and space.

Hence, we believe that our data sculpture tells a compelling story because it uses a highly relatable point of reference (the MIT Dome building) for our audience and explains the impacts of climate change in a simple two-step interactive process (sea levels rising and the proportion of the city that would be submerged). By raising awareness with this sculpture, our hope is that the MIT community can take action to fight climate change and protect our campus, city, and planet before it is too late.



The Hidden Emissions of Major Polluters

By Paul Choi, Miguel Garrido, Autumn Jing, and Tony Zeng

Most geographic comparisons of carbon dioxide emissions are based on the countries and regions where the pollution occurs. Hence, an integral part of the current debate about the blame and responsibility for climate change focuses on the emission rates of different sovereign states and geopolitical entities. The U.S. and the European Union, for example, have placed more blame on China in recent years since its emissions have increased steadily (China is now the world’s biggest carbon dioxide emitter).

However, an alternative way to compare emissions is by attributing emissions to the countries where the polluting companies are headquartered. Since companies (not governments or individuals) account for a majority of carbon emissions around the world, it is useful to compare emissions based on where the world’s biggest polluting countries are headquartered. This view reveals “hidden emissions” based on a different geographic lens.

To compare these two pictures of carbon dioxide emissions, we created the sketch below to tell a story. The bottom half of the sketch shows the reported emissions based on the geography of pollution activity. This is the most common measure cited in news stories and reports, and shows that China accounted for 27% of the world’s CO2 emissions in 2010, compared to 16% for the U.S. and 12% for China.

The top half of the sketch, however, reveals the alternative picture based on the geographies of the polluting companies’ headquarters. The data here show that in contrast to the bottom picture, Europe and the U.S. account for a larger share of the world’s CO2 emissions (20% and 19%, respectively) relative  to China (15%).

We believe this sketch tells a compelling story because it contrasts two views of the same dynamic (carbon emissions) and illustrates that there is more than one way to analyze a given problem. We believe the sketch is appropriate because it uses the analogy of a smokestack to show the viewer the relative proportions of carbon emissions. It is also effective because it guides the viewer with an annotated narrative and filters the information down to the most essential bits (six data points in total). We believe infographics like this one can provide powerful evidence-based stories to inform people and make meaningful contributions to public debates.


Exploring Sustainable Energy Policies Around the World

The internet is littered with poor data presentations on climate change. The storytelling in the charts is often ineffective, and the connection to human activity is often absent. In many cases, the “so what?” and the “call to action” are missing from these data presentations.

One example of the effective presentation of data is a new tool by the World Bank to rate sustainable energy policies in more than 100 countries. Referred to as “RISE” (Regulatory Indicators for Sustainable Energy), the tool is a scorecard that grades countries in three areas: energy access, energy efficiency, and renewable energy.

As shown below, the map enables users to explore a country’s policies and regulations in the energy sector, and also compare scores (more than 25 indicators are tracked) across countries. Users can also download the underlying data.



The intended audience for this tool is policymakers, since it can help them identify policies and regulations to expand and improve sustainable energy. However, anyone who is interested in sustainability or climate change will find the tool valuable.

The RISE tool is effective because it is interactive and communicates the data visually. It also displays relevant information and filters it down to the most essential bits. Most importantly, it provides actionable information, enabling the user to make data-driven decisions.

It can be improved in a few ways, however. For example, enabling the user to change key parameters easily and run simulations would provide greater transparency and insight into the specific actions that would be required to reach specific goals. The tool could also be improved by adding functionality to recommend policies or actions to take based on a country’s profile (geography, resources, demographics, regulatory/legal framework, politics). Still, RISE is a remarkable tool that can serve as an example of effective data presentation on climate change.

Data Log 2/21: A Day Observing My Data

In this day and age, it is very difficult to go through one’s daily routine in a networked economy without generating digital data in some way. Indeed, you almost have to go out of your way to consciously avoid certain activities, tasks, and behaviors that are routinely tracked and captured in digital form.

The following activity log illustrates both the frequency and breadth of the data that I generated in a single day.

  • 7AM: Wake up. My smartwatch senses that I am moving and provides a summary of my sleep.
  • 7:30AM: Turn on cable TV while eating breakfast, and select and save programs to watch later.
  • 9AM: Go on the internet and read news articles, check and send email, and update my calendar.
  • 11AM: Walk to MIT campus. My smartwatch provides a summary of my walk.
  • 1PM: Listen to music on my smartphone. I receive recommendations based on my listening habits.
  • 2PM: Order grocery delivery online and receive automatic email notification.
  • 2:15PM: Purchase books on Amazon and receive automatic email notification.
  • 2:30PM: Play guitar and record my playing on an iPad app, which sends the information to the Cloud.
  • 6:30PM: Exercise on treadmill, which tracks my workout (along with my smartwatch).
  • 7PM: Use CharlieCard to board the T and travel from Cambridge to Boston.
  • 7:15PM: Visit store and use smartwatch to purchase items.
  • 7:30PM: Visit convenience store and use credit card to purchase items.
  • 8PM Use Uber app on my smartphone to request a pickup to go home.
  • 10:30PM: Change thermostat setting in my apartment.
  • 11PM: Watch TV and update my saved programs.

The resulting activity log is interesting in several regards. First, since it captures only the activity that can be tracked digitally, it can result in an inaccurate portrayal of how one’s time is spent (or more generally, how a system functions or behaves). In my case, for example, I spent more than five hours during the day reading and studying, yet that activity was not captured digitally.

Second, the data that is generated can be categorized in many different ways: location tracking, motion detection, and transactional, for example. Data can also be captured for different purposes: health, entertainment, operational efficiency, convenience, surveillance.

A less obvious attribute of the data log above, however, is the degree of awareness associated with the capturing of data in each activity. Some behaviors (such as requesting an Uber ride) are active and require more consciousness and explicit consent about the data that is being tracked. Other activities (such as walking around in areas that have IP surveillance cameras) are more passive and subconscious with regard to data, and consent is usually implicit. In all cases, however, vast amounts of data are being captured digitally.