White blood cells battling against an infection, a virus trying to shake the immune system – armed with faces, arms and legs. For Finnish ’90s kids, this sounds familiar from a TV show known as Once Upon a Time… Life.
The series turned cells, organs and other body parts into characters that were fighting to keep their human healthy. Almost by accident, viewers learned a great deal about biology, such as defence mechanisms and bodily functions.
That’s exactly what Psyon Games founder and CEO Olli Rundgren has in mind: learning by entertainment.
“Games are superior to any other form of advertising because of their high level of engagement,” he explains. “If they’re used to educate and inform people, the impact can be huge.”
Making an impact requires catching the attention of the ever-so-busy modern people. It might be difficult, but Psyon Games knows it’s well within the realm of possibility: the studio did exactly that with Trump vs. Science.
The simple game splashes out tweets by Donald Trump, the now President of the United States, from when the election campaign was still running. Players can then throw the scientifically inaccurate tweets down with science books.
“The most anti-science nominee ever was running for the most powerful position in the world,” Rundgren says. “We wanted people to realise his claims stemmed out of an ideology and weren’t in line with unbiased scientific facts.”
The next scientific battlefield Psyon Games is about to step into is the world of vaccinations and antibiotics. Rundgren points out that misinformation about medicine has a dire effect on some communities and particularly individual children. According to World Health Organization, antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest threats to global health, food security and development.
To tackle false claims, Psyon Games has created a science entertainment game called Antidote. Similarly to Once Upon a Time… Life, Antidote renders complex biological processes comprehensible by making them entertaining. Even the Finnish Parliament’s Board of Vaccines has thanked the game for its combination of fun, digitalisation and educational work.
Currently the studio is negotiating with multinational pharmaceutical companies to find powerful partners for its mission. Although both Psyon Games and its future collaborators do have financial interests involved, Rundgren emphasises that everything is operated science first.
“Of course pharmaceutical firms benefit if their products are bought,” he says. “But for as long as what we’re selling is backed by the vast majority of the world’s scientific community, it also benefits the general public. It’s just a new channel for conveying information.”
Antidote has been test launched in various countries, and its global launch awaits on 13 November – which also happens to be the first day of this year’s World Antibiotic Awareness Week.
The game’s goal is to reach out to people who don’t necessarily understand scientific jargon – and not only parents, but young folks, too.
“Today’s youth will one day be parents themselves. We want to help them make informed decisions about their own and their children’s health.”
Worth every penny
It’s no accident Rundgren’s pet project is a game. He’s always loved games, and actually collected the capital for starting two companies through gaming: he used to be a professional poker player.
However, he also studied science enthusiastically, particularly chemistry, physics and biology. Once, he happened to hear Finnish gaming guru Peter Vesterbacka’s speech about the future of gaming and learning.
“It was so inspiring I instantly jumped into game development and started building a team.”
A lot of time and money has passed since. Rundgren admits laughingly that his savings might be gone, but the journey has been well worth it.
“Right now I’m doing exactly what I want to do with people who share the same passion,” he notes. “Building a company is like a strategic puzzle: everything needs to fit in place to make it whole.”