Game research in the Tampere Region is known for its comprehensive and multidisciplinary nature. It has certainly played a part in creating a foundation for the encouraging atmosphere and expertise of the local game development community – and it is now leading the way to the future and the ludic society.
“For science and the greater good of gaming!” declares Moido Games, a Tampere-based game development company, on its website. The company, which has been in operation since 2007, does both subcontracting and creates its own games. The company’s interest in game research dates back several years to the time when two of its founders worked as researchers at the University of Tampere.
“Moido Games is still involved in various different research projects. This brings us practical business benefits, and, on the other hand, we have always had a strong desire to give back to the society and to support the game research culture,” says Jani Nummela, COO and co-founder of Moido Games.
The University of Tampere Game Research Lab is the largest individual expertise cluster of Finnish game research, combining university degree education and multidisciplinary research that utilises a wide collaboration network.
“Since the end of the 1990s, our research group has had exceptional depth and width: we have had dozens of different fields of science and various different game genres, theoretical diversity and research projects anchored to practical phenomena,” says professor Frans Mäyrä, who leads the group.
The game developer community in the Tampere Region is tight-knit and the atmosphere in the field is open. Dozens of game companies operate in the area, and in a city the size of Tampere, people in the field find each other easily.
“We are constantly running into each other in assemblies, get-togethers, testing sessions and such. Contact with the researcher community is also excellent – for example, the project that led to the establishment of the Finnish Museum of Games is a fine example of how strong the local network is,” says Nummela.
Nummela estimates that the innovative culture of game research has played its part in creating a favourable atmosphere for the game industry in the area. Many companies, for their part, have understood that it pays to be involved in research.
“When you are involved, you can really say you know where the industry is heading,” Nummela says.
“Research, for its part, can help predict and map out the alternatives of the future. How do you, for example, offer players entertainment, art and interaction that will anchor into their lives in a positive way and, on the other hand, allow corporate operators the opportunity to profile themselves,” Mäyrä says.
Hybrid Social Play is an example of a project serving both research and product development. The project, funded by Tekes (the Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation), utilises cooperation between universities and companies to study how combination of physical and digital features can be used to enhance traditional games and toys.
“For example, we have combined board games with virtual devices and created a board game with an app that can be played on a tablet with related services,” says Nummela.
“In other words, a brand new way to experience a familiar game,” says Mäyrä.
If the society of the future is the Ludic Society, the Tampere-based research and game development community is well prepared. In Tampere, it is widely known that gamification is coming and this phenomenon must be understood and utilised in as many ways as is possible.
The Tampere-based Police University College is very interested in the opportunities that an open-minded attitude towards games and gamification can bring. Gamification and games could be used, for example, to promote community policing and preventative police work.
The Police University College is involved in the international Unity project, aimed at creating more effective and efficient way of doing community policing. It is responsible for developing an educational package for the project, and has adapted a game-like approach to the development work. Before developing a game it needs to be figured out what kind of content would be needed and what sort of skills will be practiced with it.
“The game could act as a problem-solving trainer and open alternative development paths. It could also be used to practise dealing with our most challenging customer groups and to further police understanding of their perspective,” says researcher Pirjo Jukarainen.
Cooperation with the University of Tampere and other educational organisations is utilised in the development stage, as is cooperation with companies and various other operators.
Gamification also opens new possibilities for police education. Practising scenarios such as crime scene investigation and operating in a scene of an accident could be done in a new way if virtual elements are added to the tuition.
“In a virtual environment, it is easy to get into the situation, find out how complex it is, and how many things one has to simultaneously observe,” says Jukarinen.
“Virtual reality can also be used to practise situations that would be too difficult, expensive or hazardous to organise in real life,” says researcher Joanna Kalalahti.
New kinds of educational solutions with game-like features are being planned at the Police University College with the main focus on pedagogy: the idea is not to create a high-flying police game, but to open up new possibilities to explore and experience various outcomes yielded by different approaches. Educational games should therefore be based on research and the learning experience should be reflected afterwards in a group, but at the same time learning can, and should, be fun.
“When people enjoy what they do, they are motivated, and that makes learning easier,” says Kalalahti.
“Through playing a game, students can achieve a flow experience, during which learning takes place almost automatically. Of course, this requires that the content of the game is carefully considered and organised,” says Jakarainen.