Game cultures in Finland – research continues

This June we received word that our large consortium (Universities of Turku, Tampere, and Jyväskylä) received funding for several years to continue research on the changing face of games and culture in Finland (the previous consortium operated under a bit different name but with a similar constellation. More info here). The consortium is funded by the Academy of Finland. Here in Jyväskylä there will be four to five people involved, myself included.

This is really good news, not only because it pays a part of my salary for the next years, but especially because the “ludification of society” is a real trend that deserves our attention. From gaming and health to the ever-expanding uses of play and games in education, there are so many promises (and pitfalls) related to “gameful” or “playful” thinking that they definitely need to be carefully looked at.

Related to this topic, I have been asked to work as a member or the advisory board for a project at the Jyväskylä University of Applied Sciences. This project, called Pelaten terveeks? (yes, with a question mark) looks at the possibility of utilizing gameful design or game-like approaches in areas such as mental health care, etc. It is a really interesting and ambitious project. At the same time I am happy to be able to say that the advisory board has their feet firmly on the ground. We can believe that there is something there in these playful approaches, without fully submitting ourselves to unwarranted optimism and hype about “gamifying” healthcare. The project goes on until the autumn, when they will have a larger symposium on the subject.

All in all very interesting times ahead, again!

Fund my research! … please?

The other day I sat through a long session where research funding was being discussed. There were professors, researchers, doctoral students as well as representatives of funders (i.e. foundations) present. Of course there were, I might add here, for applying for funding seems to be the single most important function of the modern university!

The art of wooing the evaluators is something all academicians today must learn, and of course in many ways this has always been so. Whether the source of funding has been an aristocrat’s family or an industry tycoon, we often come back to the question of how to sell our darling projects to the uninitiated. However, listening to some contemporary funding sources explaining their procedures and principles I cannot help but think that the structure has become more important than the content. This is especially prevalent in so-called public funding (I’m looking at you, EU). If you don’t follow the rules by the tiniest detail, you will be automatically dismissed. If you happen to submit your application to the wrong field, even if there is no right one for you, you are out of luck. Okay, one representative of a regional fund said that they (or he) sometimes corrects an application that has clearly been marked as something it is not. I wish the systems would be flexible enough to provide more opportunities for this…

The situation is not all that easy from the funders’ point-of-view, either. Sometimes, especially when a fund is based on wills or donations, the original donator might have specified very carefully what kind of research can or cannot be supported. This can actually lead to very interesting results. For example, a will might have specified that the money can only be given to research on a specific illness and/or for researchers coming from a specific geographical area, but it is impossible to evaluate whether there will be applicants filling these requirements once a call is opened.

I am a great proponent of knowledge for knowledge’s sake. I think we cannot ever know what kind of knowledge or insight will be of use in the future, and sometimes (often?) even this is not the point. We simply need to try to understand the world around us and ourselves in it, and this endeavor is important in itself. This is why I have followed with some concern the development of universities towards what I feel is a more applied direction, where “innovation” and industrial contacts are being stressed as funding criteria.

Learning how to apply for funding is one of the key competencies of contemporary researchers. It is a double-edged sword, this need for simplifying and selling your study, but it is something that you cannot escape from if you want to flourish in the academia. Time to practice your elevator speech?