Finland is known as a gaming superpower, with such heavyweights as Supercell, Rovio Entertainment and Remedy Entertainment being on everyone’s lips and an abundance of new games published annually. While video games are still often viewed solely as a form of entertainment, Finnish industry professionals are pushing the envelope by designing games which serve educational, therapeutic and philanthropic purposes as well.
Game on! Here are five ways in which Finns are broadening the impact of gaming beyond pure entertainment.
With depression being a leading cause of disability worldwide, the need for new effective methods to help those affected by it is hard to overestimate. A research group headed by Aalto University professor Matias Palva is developing a computer game that can be used for the treatment of depression alongside drug and other therapies.
The game looks and feels like a modern action video game and tasks the player with solving challenges in a fantasy city. Meanwhile, its complex network of underlying features produces a therapeutic effect, easing the symptoms of depression and improving cognitive performance.
An early version of the game has already proved viable in a clinical study conducted by the psychiatry department of Helsinki University Hospital, the University of Helsinki and Mental Hub. The game, however, has its limitations, and the researchers will further work on it to enhance its therapeutic effect.
“The number of people who suffer from milder symptoms of depression is two to threefold compared to those with diagnosable depressive syndromes,” said Erkki Isometsä, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Helsinki and chief physician in psychiatry at the Hospital District of Helsinki and Uusimaa (HUS).
“There is great demand for all cost-effective aids for these groups.”
While the use of technology and gamification is rapidly increasing in education, some subjects and fields of knowledge are often being overshadowed by others. SyraWise, an educational game company founded in 2015, has found its niche in creating platforms for comprehensive safety and security education.
The company’s core product, Rescuebusters, is a brainchild of co-founder Jussi Rautio, a firefighter and emergency medical technician by training. The mobile game lets school children learn about accident prevention and practise various emergency situations in a fun yet effective way.
SyraWise has also developed an educational portal for teachers which is connected to the mobile game, allowing them to track the students’ progress and providing access to inspiring safety education materials. Moreover, all the products can be customised for the needs of businesses seeking novel ways to educate their employees on workplace safety.
“If you think of a lot of popular games, they are about fighting, killing or smashing cars,” noted co-founder and CEO Markus Syrjänen. “We wanted to make something that does the opposite and teaches how to save lives.”
Team Action Zone (TAZ)
Established in 2010, the Tampere-based company first developed a digital team game – and then realised it could help everyone else to create their own, too. This is how ActionTrack was born. The platform allows people without any special skills to create their own engaging mobile games for teambuilding activities, corporate and private events of any size, education, marketing and more.
Alternatively, they can choose any team game from the company’s extensive turnkey game portfolio and customise it to their liking.
The unique approach has helped TAZ in reaching various customer segments – from schools and activity parks to corporate event organisers and municipalities. With the majority of sales coming from abroad, the platform has already been used in more than 50 countries.
“Gamification is a huge trend, and ActionTrack makes it available to everyone,” CEO Kari Laurila told us a few years ago. “For example, teachers and education service providers can use it in teaching, resorts and hotels to develop activities for guests, and employees to make their workshops more engaging by turning them into a team game.”
Nowadays, the idea of making the world a better place with video games doesn’t seem that outlandish. In fact, experts believe that gaming, as one of the biggest communication media out there, presents an opportunity for boosting awareness and action on the most urgent global needs.
With this in mind, Helsinki-based 4Good Games has set out to develop free-to-play casual mobile games with social impact at their core. The startup that closed a seed funding round last year aims to connect in-game actions with real-world impact, thus making every playing session feel meaningful. Furthermore, up to half of the company’s profits will go to supporting the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, with a particular focus on the environment and climate-related causes.
“Our mission is to be the change we want to see in the world, and, as game developers, that means promoting positive social impact through play,” explained founder and CEO Ilmari Hakkola. “Where many games with social impact fail is that they are not accessible or fun enough for mass audiences. In order to make a real impact, we need to create the best games out there. We aim to make giving fun.”
With the goal of becoming “the best narrative-driven game studio in the world”, Vaasa-based Platonic Partnership takes pride in developing story-based games that motivate change. The studio differentiates itself in the market by not only creating compelling narratives, but also tackling sensitive social topics.
“We create narrative experiences, to put it shortly,” stated co-founder and CEO Jussi Loukiainen. “We approach game development as if we were making a film or animation. Our primary focus is on the story, and we create the functionalities and other game-like elements around it.”
The studio’s award-winning title, Lydia, is a visual novel which delivers a grim portrayal of substance abuse through the eyes of its eponymous young heroine. The social message behind the game resonated well with Finland’s national alcoholic beverage retailer, Alko. Constantly on the lookout for new ways to promote a responsible drinking culture and prevent alcohol abuse, Alko published a mobile version of the game in late 2018.
More recently, Lydia saw a launch on Nintendo Switch and helped to raise money for Fragile Childhood, a Finnish non-profit organisation that seeks to support children affected by parental substance abuse.