New Centre of Excellence investigates changes in game culture

Submitted on Wed, 06/07/2017 - 16:07
Professori Frans Mäyrä
“The current transformation processes of media and technology are extensive and wide-ranging and they will have a significant impact on society, says Professor Frans Mäyrä. - Photograph: Jonne Renvall

As of January 2018, the first Centre of Excellence in Game Culture Studies in Finland will start at the University of Tampere. The Academy of Finland-funded Centre of Excellence will investigate cultural and social change through the lens of games. Both the perspective and the scale of the initiative are unique.

“Digital games currently present a major transformation in both game cultures and society more widely. New games foster new cultural practices and social interaction, and have a significant impact on mental processes on several levels,” says Director of the Centre of Excellence Frans Mäyrä, professor of information studies and interactive media at the University of Tampere.

“Profound and far-reaching transformation processes are taking place in the fields of media and technology, which will have vast repercussions on the entire society. Gaming and playing are ancient, enduring and fundamental elements of culture but when they are connected to virtual worlds, characters driven by artificial intelligence, virtual currencies and other phenomena enabled by new technology they are situated within rapidly evolving game cultures,” Mäyrä continues.

The Centre of Excellence in Game Culture Studies will produce both theoretical knowledge, new concepts and models, and investigate how to apply the research knowledge in practice. The multidisciplinary group of researchers aims to understand games, players and playing in several different contexts, such as work, learning and health promotion in addition to arts and entertainment. At the same time, they will also examine how games are changing people’s attitudes and behaviour, and the entire culture.

“We want to understand how cultural agency develops and changes in the era of games,” Mäyrä says.

The gamification of society

The Pokémon Go game phenomenon in the summer of 2016 is a good example of how games currently play a significant role in everyday life. The game made people move and talk to unknown people in the streets. Generational divisions were also crossed when entire families together started to search for the virtual Pokémon characters in the physical urban environment.

“We talk about ludification of culture and society, which means development where games and ludic skills become increasingly important and gradually completely natural and transparent ways to participate in culture or everyday life,” Mäyrä explains.

“Gaming is essentially about creative problem solving and it has an impact on both our skills and thinking and the ways we solve problems and communicate, also outside of games,” Mäyrä says.

“Participating in a game requires motivation and meaning building, community and devotion. By examining gaming communities, we can predict what the future will bring also more widely,” Mäyrä continues.

Game research has a wide impact

The research conducted at Centres of Excellence must also have an impact outside the academic community.

“The impact of a Centre of Excellence is naturally based on the fact that we produce basic scientific knowledge and understanding on the studied field. For example, it will be of value in game and media education because teachers and parents must have reliable information. Among other things, game researchers have already created the free Game Educators’ Handbook that teachers and parents can use,” Mäyrä says.

“Research also affords a lot of other impact. A Centre of Excellence may support the creation of new innovations and promote the interaction of experts, game developers and various special groups,” Mäyrä says.

“That people play together is one of the most powerful ways of fostering the community spirit. Gaming crosses over generational, cultural and linguistic barriers. Communal gaming and gamified problem-solving have a significant role in the multicultural society that is facing global challenges,” Mäyrä explains.

Games research also creates a better understanding of the ethical and sustainable practices that challenge game companies to develop their products and services. Decision-makers, experts and different authorities may utilise scientific knowledge on the development of games and game cultures, such as the time and money spent on gaming.

The first professorship in the field at UTA

When Frans Mäyrä started in his post in 2002, he was the first in his field in Finland. To begin with, the professorship was positioned in the field of hypermedia. Mäyrä extended the scope of the post into digital culture and game research.

As a researcher, Mäyrä has concentrated on the cultural and social impacts of interactive media and digital culture issues. In game studies, his expertise is in the research of the gaming experience, the sociocultural analysis of games and multidisciplinary game design research.

Mäyrä has published widely, writing for example one of the key textbooks on game research: An Introduction to Game Studies (Sage Publications, 2008).

In 2009, he was among the scholars who set up the Finnish Yearbook of Game Studies, the only peer-reviewed scientific periodical on game research in Finland and the Player Barometer Survey. The player surveys have highlighted trends in the gaming culture and acted as an important longitudinal study of gaming in Finland.

Mäyrä’s research group Game Research Lab at the University of Tampere has investigated, among other things, game design, gaming experiences, pervasive gaming and other emerging game and play forms, as well as different gaming cultures.

Game research started at the University of Tampere in the 1990s

The fact that the first Centre of Excellence in game research will start at the University of Tampere is the result of twenty-five years of dedicated work.

The University’s Hypermedia Laboratory already started in 1992. It especially focused on research of digital games, the open information society, and new information and media services.

The first Finnish research group in the field, Game Research Lab, was established in 2002, the same year when it became possible to study game research at UTA. Milestones that are more recent include the appointment of Olli Sotamaa to the associate professorship (tenure track) in game culture research and awarding the title of adjunct professor on gambling research to Professor Pauliina Raento earlier this year.

The game researchers at the University of Tampere were also instrumental in establishing the Finnish Museum of Games in Tampere in early 2017. The museum is an important resource for both teaching and research.

A longer Centre of Excellence period

The Centre of Excellence in Game Culture Studies includes three research groups: Game Research Lab from the University of Tampere, with Olli Sotamaa as the team leader, Professor Raine Koskimaa’s research group from the University of Jyväskylä and Professor Jaakko Suominen’s research group from the University of Turku. The research network in the Centre of Excellence will number about thirty-five.

The Academy of Finland selected the new Centres of Excellence in its reformed Centre of Excellence Programme. The new Centres, which will start in January 2018, will get funding for eight years whereas the currently funded periods are six years. After the first four years, the Centres will undergo an interim scientific review. The results from the interim review will determine the level of funding for the last four years.

The Centre of Excellence in Game Culture Studies

Frans Mäyrä University of Tampere, Raine Koskimaa University of Jyväskylä, Olli Sotamaa University of Tampere and Jaakko Suominen University of Turku

Game Research Lab

For more information, please contact:
Professor Frans Mäyrä, tel. +358 50 336 7650, frans.mayra@uta.fi