European countries are moving their national curriculums online, trying to keep kids engaged and connected to school through virtual play during a global pandemic; Dota 2 engulfing your mind and soul for the weekend; a Minecraft fixation that’s lasted a decade and 16 versions; Words with Friends you have never met; streaming League of Legends and watching it along with 100 million others; families divided by one night of Monopoly; a child sitting alone talking avidly to a doll, a stuffed bear, and their invisible friend; 2,500 years of continued abstract strategic brinkmanship play on a Go board — it’s in our most basic nature and in our essence of being to create states of play for ourselves and with each other.
Rewards? Not always. A shared player vision of the game? Perhaps you’ve never played “I Spy” with a four-year-old — they see things a bit differently. Clear cut strategies? Well, that depends – are we talking about play-mode or game-mode – because they are not the same. Games are not as straightforward as you may think, and game studies — the why, how, when, where and with who of how we play — is even more complex.
What makes us drawn to games and how we respond to them is exactly why Karoliina Korppoo found herself doing a Master’s in Game and Internet Studies at Tampere University in Finland after having worked in the games industry for some years.
“If you want to work with games, learning about the motivations for play and games, and understanding what games are in our culture and how all mammals play, is very beneficial,” explains Korppoo, now lead designer at one of the world’s most highly ranked urban planning games, Cities: Skylines.
“I enjoyed combining the academic approach to practical skills and feel that I can do a better job at designing games when I have read game studies,” she shares.
Understanding the nuances of human behaviours and their motivations enables the creation of games like Cities: Skylines. The game engages players by allowing them to fulfil their inner urban planner dreams, and it keeps them playing by understanding why they want to build in the first place. This level of insight — as much as the hardcoded functionality — is an integral part of the framework that goes into “a game.” It’s what keeps you playing.
“For some reason not many game professionals seem to be interested in academic game studies,” Korppoo muses. “For me, trying to understand the psychology behind playing and games is essential in designing games. I find applying theories very useful, and the skills for searching for research and articles are very useful.”
While the premise of understanding how humans create and relate to games might seem obvious to some, Tampere University realised otherwise and was an early leader — one of few globally — in developing a graduate degree in Game Studies. Experts in the field of games, who understand the deep motivations and complex interactions that drive decision making and human behaviour, can have a powerful impact on education, government, and local communities.
Spanish alumni, and current game researcher and doctoral candidate, Daniel Fernández Galeote had been looking for a focused degree. “It was practically the only Master’s programme focused on game studies that I found in Europe,” he explains.
“During my time as a master’s student, between 2018 and 2019, I participated in various projects that connected with the world beyond the university,” he enthuses. “A group and I created a board game for learning about biodiversity topics as part of a course. For a year, I was the editor-in-chief of [the gaming information, review and strategy site] PlayLab! Magazine.”
Fernández Galeote can’t help but tie back humans, their behaviours, their interactions with games and each other as part of his degree experience — describing how even at a free university social space, the opportunities for him to observe people in action were abound: “I participated in the Oasis Keymasters program, which allowed me to be part of a community that takes care of the playful social space at the university, while also participating in long-term research about the uses people make of it.”
Traveling across Europe, from Spain’s sunny and balmy shores to the (comparatively, very cold) land of thousands of lakes and saunas that is Finland may have been an intimidating proposition for some, but Fernández Galeote was intrigued.
“Diversity and contrast are some of the most attractive features of Finland. If you enjoy playing board games with a small group of friends at a café, you can do that. If you feel stressed and want to go see a movie or take a walk in the forest or by the lakeshore, you will not be bothered,” he explains.
“If you would rather go crazy in a student bar or a heavy metal concert, there’s plenty of that too. If you enjoy long winters and snow, you will get more than enough, followed by months where you will hardly ever lose sight of the sun.”
It’s a poetic and accurate summary of one of Europe’s most unique countries, renowned for their independent thinking and spirit — where warm friendliness exists alongside sisu — a very Finnish quality that describes stoic resilience, tenacity and an individual’s determination. Students at Tampere’s Games Studies programme have the full support of their professors, but are given wide breadth to pursue independent interests, research hunches and to develop their very own brand of sisu.
Tampere University will get you to think outside of the box, understand the motivations of people around you and ultimately, improve their lives — find out more here.
Like this? Then you’ll love…