Profiling areas in focus: Sustainable game-based solutions to tackle the grand challenges of our time
Tampere University is a global pioneer in games and gamification research, which emerged as a subject of scientific interest at the University as early as the 1990s. The University has succeeded in addressing some of the fundamental problems facing science and society by using games as a research platform.
“Tampere University is internationally recognised as a research institution that taps into games as means to make a positive impact on various different areas of society, ranging from healthcare to economy and education to culture. We are looking to increasingly develop this aspect of gamification in the international arena as well,” says Professor Juho Hamari who leads the research consortium.
Collaborative research in gamification is carried out by three faculties at Tampere University, namely the Faculty of Information Technology and Communication Sciences, the Faculty of Management and Business and the Faculty of Education and Culture. The consortium has received funding from the Academy of Finland’s PROFI6 programme for the period from 2021 to 2026.
Tampere University of Applied Sciences (TAMK) is also working on game design and development. As the activities are closely connected to the profiling area of Tampere University, the University and TAMK are set to further expand their multidisciplinary collaboration in games research. The consortium currently comprises 60–70 researchers, and the process of recruiting four new tenure-track professors is under way. In an international context, this marks a historical moment for the entire research field.
According to Hamari, the research consortium is not only looking to conduct pioneering research but also to improve our understanding of the potential of games, gamification and game cultures to promote ecological, economic, societal, technological and cultural sustainability.
Games hold promise for building a sustainable culture
Gamification has evolved into one of our most significant means of promoting well-being for individuals and societies. While modern technologies, such as big data, AI and robotics, are improving efficiency and uncovering new capabilities, gamification and game-based activities are geared towards developing the innate abilities and efficiency of people by fostering, for example, our creativity, motivation and engagement.
“During recent years, the perception of games, gamification and game cultures has turned (i.e. ludic turn) from malevolent pastime into perceptions of benevolent technologies, practices and cultures of human flourishing,” Hamari points out.
Hamari is pleased that games as a positive force and one of the building blocks of a sustainable culture are beginning to attract increasing scientific interest.
“Still, a great deal of research remains to be done. The potential of games to support the achievement of sustainable development goals should be increasingly recognised, especially at the international level,” Hamari notes.
PROFI funding supports the development of research capacity and a multidisciplinary approach
The research consortium has received five-year PROFI funding to carry out international research and development activities in games and gamification and move towards an increasingly multidisciplinary approach, among other things, by recruiting new research staff. In addition, the consortium is building regional collaboration networks and developing research infrastructures by opening two new and unique facilities in 2022: a digital interaction laboratory called Ludus on the City centre campus and Paidia, a living lab of play that brings together research and societal interaction, at Nokia Arena in Tampere.
Game-based solutions are in high demand, and the consortium will apply game elements to tackle global challenges. The consortium’s current research interests have focused, among other things, on media literacy and knowledge processing with the help of gamification and game-based technologies and sustainable consumption in virtual reality. The researchers have also developed a game-based application in cooperation with Finland’s forest industry to improve forest management.
Juho Hamari also brings up the potential of immersive technologies, such as augmented and virtual reality: they enable us to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and storify experiences.
“Virtual reality can allow us to experience other people’s environment, experiences and culture first-hand. This technology could be utilised to promote positive behaviour and attitudes,” he notes.
Collaboration improves the quality of games research
Tampere University is the leading centre for research in games and gamification in Finland, but the University also undertakes multidisciplinary games research in collaboration with a number of universities.
The Centre of Excellence in Game Culture Studies, a joint undertaking between Tampere University, the University of Turku, and the University of Jyväskylä, is a community of more than 30 researchers who explore games and gaming from diverse perspectives. The Centre of Excellence is headed by Frans Mäyrä, a professor of information studies and interactive media at Tampere University.
Professor Hamari, who leads the multidisciplinary Gamification Group that brings together researchers from Tampere University and the University of Turku, is committed to setting the bar of research even higher. He sees PROFI funding as an opportunity to build broader and more effective collaboration networks and taking his group’s games research, already recognised for its excellence and impact, to the next level.
“We are working to strengthen both basic and applied research in the field of games and gamification and are continuously developing our activities. High-quality research delivers a positive impact for society,” Hamari says.
The researchers have set their sights on the international arena. Commercialisation will also play an important part in their future activities.
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juho.hamari [at] tuni.fi
Games as a Platform to Tackle Grand Challenges
- Multidisciplinary research consortium that has been selected as one of Tampere University’s profiling areas in 2021–2026.
- Studies and develops game-based solutions to address global mega-challenges.
- Creates avenues for collaboration between researchers, public authorities, policymakers, communities, associations and companies.
- Focuses on the following research themes:
1) Game-based technologies and experiences and their impact on sustainable development (Juho Hamari)
2) Game cultures (Frans Mäyrä)
3) Game-based learning (Kristian Kiili)
4) Use of gamification in organisations and sustainable business (Henri Pirkkalainen).
PROFI6 funding from the Academy of Finland
- In early 2021, the Academy of Finland awarded funding under its PROFI6 programme to help Finnish universities raise their strategic research profiles and further improve the quality of their research.
- Tampere University received a total of €12.7 million for strengthening strategically selected profiling areas.
- Four profiling areas are funded in Tampere University’s spearhead fields of technology, health, and society:
1) Health Data Science
2) Games as a Platform to Tackle Grand Challenges
3) TAU Imaging Research Platform
4) Sustainable Transformation of Urban Environments (STUE)
Read more on the Academy of Finland’s website.
Text: Anna Aatinen