Energy Game Created by Mike Horn and Reed Stevens Wins Award

Energy Game Created by Mike Horn and Reed Stevens Wins Award

Turn Up the Heat game

Discovering enjoyable ways for families to consider energy use and environmental sustainability is the aim of the Green Home Games project led by SESP faculty members Michael Horn and Reed Stevens. A game they developed for this project recently won an award at an international conference on educational games. 

At the Games+Learning+Society (GLC) conference, Horn and Stevens won second place for their game entitled Turn Up the Heat. The GLC conference convenes annually at the University of Wisconsin-Madison to bring together educational games researchers, game designers and educators from around the globe to share their research and game designs.

The two Learning Sciences professors lightheartedly describe Turn Up the Heat as "the world's first and only thermostat board game." The game consists of both a traditional board game and an iPad app.

Horn says, “The game playfully confronts power dynamics associated with household thermostats and encourages families to think about tradeoffs related to energy, comfort, money and environmental sustainability.” The game also tackles common misconceptions about how thermostats work.


The object of Turn Up the Heat is for families to work together to make it through one full year of Chicago weather while earning 20 comfort points and 20 green points. As a central feature of game play, all members of the family are able to set a thermostat on their turns.

The professors' research during game development confirmed that “the cooperative style of play resulted in family discussions around game strategy and the meaning of the temperature graph and thermostat interfaces,” Horn says. Their research on the game involved iterative design, technology development, and an interview and observation study of families playing the game in their homes.

Turn Up the Heat now also includes a "live mode" feature, where families with a Nest thermostat move between the game world and the real world, according to Horn. Based on actual weather conditions, setting the thermostat in the game can set the real thermostat in their home. 

The Green Home Games project, funded by the National Science Foundation, focuses on finding inventive and enjoyable ways for families to think about energy consumption and environmental sustainability. Horn is principal investigator, and Stevens is co-principal investigator.

Horn is an assistant professor at Northwestern University with a joint appointment in Computer Science and Learning Sciences. His research considers the intersection of human-computer interaction and learning with a focus on thoughtful uses of emerging technologies in diverse learning settings. Some of Horn's recent projects have included an investigation of multi-touch tabletops in natural history museums and the use of tangible programming languages in kindergarten classrooms and science museums.

Stevens is a professor in Learning Sciences whose research interests include learning in a wide range of settings and situations as well as the design of learning tools — curriculum, activities and technologies. For several years Stevens has headed the Learning in Formal and Informal Environments (LIFE) Center, with major funding from the National Science Foundation. Stevens emphasizes the importance of studying informal out-of-school learning in order to capture a full picture of how people learn.


By Marilyn Sherman
Last Modified: 7/16/14