Gamification may make work more meaningful and interesting. Ludification also reduces stress levels. Game-like elements are now a part of many different services.
“Win a prize by observing the speed limit!” Some of the money earned from traffic tickets paid by speeding drivers was given out as prizes in Sweden. It was an experiment on whether gamification could be used to control traffic behaviour. As a result, the average speed driven by motorists decreased considerably.
The speed camera raffle is one of the best known examples of the use of gamification and illustrates how the mechanics of games have become a part of daily life.
“The Swedish experiment was of course more about financial incentives even though the underlying idea of gamification is to increase self-motivation. Through internal motivation, people find doing things meaningful without getting direct benefits from the outside,” says Professor Juho Hamari from Tampere University of Technology.
The underlying idea behind gamification is that since games are popular and people enjoy them, elements borrowed from games can encourage us to do many useful things. Gamification is especially utilised in health and education services, but also at workplaces.
Typical examples include devices and applications designed to promote health and exercise that measure sports scores, provide feedback and encourage sharing one’s accomplishments with friends.
“There is much interest in educational games but it is hard to design them. Users should be taught to play at the same time as they are taught the educational substance,” says Toni Pippola, senior lecturer in game development at Tampere University of Applied Sciences.
It is hoped that gamification will help people make rational decisions rather than base their decisions on emotion. However, the problem with e.g. studying or adopting healthy lifestyles is that the results are not immediate.
“If people go jogging, they will not be in a top condition right after their run or they don’t know everything in the syllabus after a day at school. Games allow people to phase their progress and make it more concrete, which brings them closer to their ultimate goals. If gamification is poorly executed, the gameful elements may replace people’s own good motivation. A game may also encourage excessive behaviour or doing the wrong things,” Hamari says.
Services and customer encounters are another example of where gamification is often used. People are encouraged to collect points, and various rankings may be used to measure their performance relative to others. Services can also encourage hunting for different types of badges or progressing from one level to the next.
There is plenty of game research and teaching at Tampere3.
The Academy of Finland-funded Centre of Excellence (CoE) in Game Culture Studies at the University of Tampere examines the transformation of culture and society through games. Both the perspective and scale of the research consortium are unique.
Games and gamification researchers at Tampere University of Technology examine, among other things, what kind of games or gamification are suitable for which environment or for what kind of people and what kinds of behaviours can be generated with different games.
At Tampere University of Applied Sciences, game studies are a part of the Software Engineering Programme and Media and Arts Programme. The studies include e.g. game design, programming, graphics, the game business and game projects. The studies take place in Tampere and the programme co-operates with companies and communities in the Tampere region and elsewhere.
“The current 5-year-olds will become game professionals by the time they grow up. Because of them, the logic of games will be integrated into services, which will make the user experience easier and more pleasant,” Pippola says.
Games and playing are generally associated with two terms that mean different things. Gamification, i.e. the introduction of game mechanics in new contexts, was discussed above.
Ludification is a wider phenomenon. Attitudes, behaviour and the whole culture and society are changing in a more playful direction because of games.
“In the late modern period, adult identity is allowed to be more playful than before. People no longer operate just under the merit of utilitarianism but seek creative joy and excitement from playful activities,” says Professor Frans Mäyrä from the University of Tampere. He directs the Academy of Finland-funded Centre of Excellence in Game Culture Studies (CoE).
In working life, gamification can be seen, for example, in the form of slides, which employees use playfully at some workplaces, or in business simulations that help to train leadership skills.
“Research on the relationship between gaming and work has shown that almost every work community has at least one creative and a bit crazy character who is quick-witted and comes up with surprising solutions. Playful activities have been considered important especially in workplaces that need to foster creativity, such as game design studios,” Mäyrä explains.
Almost every work community sometimes takes a break from routine work and organises more fun and experiential days whose programme may include team building and games that require creativity.
Gamification can also be seen as counteracting robotisation and artificial intelligence. As machines are handling increasingly more work, people are left with tasks that require creativity and an understanding of the empirical and semiotic worlds. Gamification may be helpful in nurturing these aspects.
“It has also been shown that playful attitude helps coping and recuperation. In addition, stress levels are reduced if there is room for playfulness. If employees play or game at the workplace, they form more friendships and show each other more support. Game-like elements also help recovery from depression,” Mäyrä says.
Gamification may also mean reconfiguring the entire work organisation. When the workplace hierarchy is low, employees are given more freedom. For example, they can be divided into gameful teams that negotiate among themselves the best way to carry out the tasks.
Various calculators and indicators can also be used to illustrate how work has progressed. The aim is to improve the employees’ self-motivation and make work more enjoyable and interesting.
Businesses are following the example of large game organisations also because many 30-year-olds have learned several of their work skills from games.
“How do you co-operate with others and manage projects? People who have reached my age may already in their teens have led game teams with forty members,” Hamari points out.
The popularity of games and gamification is shown, for example, by the great number of applicants who want to study the field. Each year, about forty students start studying game development at Tampere University of Applied Sciences. The focus is on entertainment games; the number of educational games accounts for less than a third of the games developed by the students.
Many of the students start working for game companies while they are still studying, but they also learn skills that are related to gamification.
“Increasingly many students go to work for companies that have nothing to do with game design. Many companies are now designing software or machines that make use of virtual reality, and the mastery of game techniques is an asset in those jobs. Such products include simulators, or virtual reality can be used to practise dangerous tasks, for example,” Pippola says.
Text: Sanna Sevänen
Photos: Jonne Renvall and Kimmo Brandt