Why make learning a game? Shouldn't it be about hard graft and study? The answer is that games excite and engage people, challenge them, and encourage them to complete tasks. In a competitive, high-stakes world, that's the kind of voluntary participation and commitment that helps both teams and individuals progress.
Take healthcare. Drug discovery is a hugely important area, as the world knows only too well. A key element of this is being able to predict the structure of a protein from its amino acid sequence, so that medications can be designed to bind onto it and trigger or prevent actions.
It's not a game - except when it needs to be. In the US, the University of Seattle, Washington State, uses online game FoldIt to crowdsource research that helps scientists working in protein structure prediction.
The aim is to find out if humans' pattern-recognition and puzzle-solving abilities make them more efficient than existing computer programs at pattern-folding tasks. If true, they plan to teach the human strategies they uncover to computers, to automate and vastly speed up the process.
It's not the only example of gamification in research and learning environments. For example, language learning app Duolingo also uses game-like elements, such as a currency (lingots), leaderboards, experience points, and reward badges, to engage and encourage users to progress.
Gamification is no idle activity, and it's certainly not wasted energy. In the gaming world, we know that millions of people spend hours competing with each other, solving problems, overcoming challenges, and using their brains, eyes, and hands. They also make new contacts and acquire new skills.
Gamification simply aims to capture that spirit of competition, teamwork, reward, and human engagement, and turn it towards other productive uses - such as keeping a nation's IT and communications networks running.
Founded in 1996, award-winning Microtest was the first Huawei Authorized Learning Partner (HALP) in Russia. Its mission is to explore new methods to train users in new technologies and find innovative ways to engage students in learning. Gamification has proved to be a highly successful approach.
Launched in 2016, IT-Games PRO is a Microtest methodology that combines teamwork and competition with coaching, training, practice, and testing, all culminating in a certification exam. Its storytelling and troubleshooting features add entertainment and interest to the experience, transforming it into something engaging and active - quite different from traditional, passive models.
Building on the success of IT-Games Pro, Microtest and Huawei launched the Huawei Hunger Games 2018 two years later. The educational gaming championship involved some of the leading corporations in the country, including Russian Railways, Sberbank, and Yandex.
Twenty-six projects were entered in the Games and participants passed 100 Huawei exams, stimulating a new wave of interest in the company's IT certification programme: more than 400 certification exams were passed at Microtest Training Centres during the second half of 2018 alone.
Inspired by these success stories, Microtest and Huawei launched an even more ambitious gaming concept with some more of Russia's largest companies: the Huawei Certified Internetwork Expert (HCIE) Huawei Camp 2019. The goal was to boost IT specialists' knowledge, experience, and confidence - while pushing new teams of HCIE-trained experts out into the field.
It's an important undertaking for the nation: significant parts of the enterprise networks in Russia are constructed with Huawei equipment, so keeping them running securely and at their optimum capacity is essential for every organisation in the country, and in any nation that uses Huawei kit.
Moving forward with Huawei, and developing new initiatives and skill sets, Microtest is now planning new campaigns to promote the full suite of Huawei certifications - including Huawei Certified ICT Associate (HCIA), Huawei Certified ICT Professional (HCIP), and HCIE - while demonstrating that there is real demand for Huawei-certified experts on a global scale.
For example, their certified IT professionals could open doors to careers in developing markets, notably other BRICS nations, such as Brazil, India, China, and South Africa, and elsewhere across the African continent.