Gamification of plastic action in coastal Vietnam


Millions of tonnes of plastic enter the oceans every year, with devastating impacts on marine ecosystems. To tackle this, widespread action is required at local to (inter)national scales. However, the “throwaway” mindset, convenience of single-use plastics and economic benefits compared to other options means that progress is slow.

The Vietnamese coastline supports millions of people through industries such as tourism, fishing and aquaculture. However, this region is also under severe pressure from plastic pollution, directly impacting local ecosystems and human health and indirectly by compounding the effects of other environmental pressures such as climate change.

To increase participation in initiatives such as recycling, waste reduction and plastic reuse, it is necessary to provide societal motivation. Research has shown that mobile applications and competitive gaming (eco-gamification) can be an effective way of enhancing environmental awareness and encouraging sustainability activities, by creating a fun, motivational framework.

Much research into eco-gamification focuses on the digital environment, such as Apps. However, in a traditional society such as those found in the rural coastal communities of Vietnam, access to digital technology can be limited, especially to certain demographics. Therefore, the aim of this project is to investigate the effectiveness of traditional board games and digital Apps in raising awareness of the issues surrounding plastic waste, and whether gamification can change attitudes towards plastic use, recycling and waste habits. This will be conducted via a multi-disciplinary approach combining game design, science communication and environmental conservation.


The appointed PhD student will design and implement different types of games in rural coastal communities throughout Vietnam and evaluate the effectiveness of these games in mobilising community engagement with plastic waste issues. Games will be placed in the wider environmental and societal contexts (e.g. mangrove ecosystem function, plastic production by fishing industries), informed by field visits to local communities in the northern, central and southern areas of Vietnam. Engagement with local communities will be facilitated through community groups, schools, NGOs and governing bodies. This multi-disciplinary project will involve environmental and social science approaches, applied through game design.

This PhD will be part of a multi-million pound consortium project led by the Lyell Centre, which aims to quantify the flow of plastic materials through the coastal environment of Vietnam and deliver solutions to reduce environmental and societal impacts in the long-term. This PhD will help to achieve these aims, focusing on communication approaches. The appointed PhD student will therefore be part of an inspiring and innovative environment, supported by the project supervisors and postdoctoral researchers. Should Covid-19 restrictions still be in place, physical distancing in the field will be possible, supplemented by remote deployment of the games via our in-country colleagues.

Project Timeline

Year 1

Literature review, community interviews, prototype game designs

Year 2

Prototype game development, pilot game roll-out, presentation at a national conference

Year 3

Game refinement, Vietnam-wide roll-out, write-up for publication, presentation at an international conference

Year 3.5

Writing-up of results and completion of thesis, submission of papers for publication

& Skills

Project support

The facilities, equipment and expertise available within the institutions and supervisory team provide a combination of world-leading capability in coastal sustainability, gamification, fishing management and community engagement that ideal fits this PhD project, maximising the expert training that will be available. This includes the Lyell Centre, a world-leading environmental research institute, and GRID, a brand new facility featuring the very latest in technological innovation, including Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality and Gaming studios for the game design phases, with the capability to connect with industry and academic partners around the world. Dr Vu Kim Chi, Vietnam National University, is an expert in science communication and public engagement, and provides crucial in-country support, knowledge and experience.

This project will equip the student with a range of skills, including computer science, design, science communication and engagement. Specific research skills will include:
– Computer coding
– Big-data analysis
– Community engagement with research
– Qualitative analytical methods
– Experimental design

PhD student support

The Lyell Centre has a large research student cohort that will provide peer-support throughout the studentship, including participation in the EGIS annual post-graduate research conference. All project supervisors are also highly research-active. The PhD student will interact with all members of their research groups through lab-group meetings at the Lyell Centre, University of Stirling and Vietnam National University, Hanoi, providing an opportunity to learn about other techniques and research areas which may be applicable to their research. Additionally, the supervisors are all based in research-active departments that span a broad range of ecological, environmental and geoscience research, exposing the scholar to a range of other research areas. Active participation in these research groups will provide the opportunity to discuss cutting-edge topics in the field, review recent papers and to present current research plans to academics with a common research interest in an informal and supportive atmosphere.

Where required, and to maintain continued professional development, the scholar will be supported to attend specialist courses directly aligned to the project:
– Mobile app design
– Science communication
– Big-data analysis
– This project will involve some fieldwork, thus the scholar may attend a field first aid course in the first 6 months of the project.
– The project supervisors will also support and encourage the PhD student attendance on transferable skills training such as data management and scientific writing. These are provided for free within Heriot-Watt University Research Futures Academy.

References & further reading

Ritchie & Roser. “Plastic Pollution”.

LI, Wai Chin, H. F. Tse, and Lincoln Fok. “Plastic waste in the marine environment: A review of sources, occurrence and effects.” Science of the Total Environment 566 (2016): 333-349.

Morris et al. “Gaming science: the “Gamification” of scientific thinking.” Frontiers in Psychology 4 (2013): 607.

Further Information

In the first instance, enquiries should be directed to the primary supervisor, Dr Heidi Burdett ( Please indicate why you are interested in this project and attach your CV to the email.

For eligible candidates, funding is available to cover tuition fees, stipend and research costs. However, please note that this project is in competition with others for funding, and success will depend on the quality of applications received.

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