Alumni Spotlight Brayden Olson, ’08 | Bringing Video Games to the Classroom

Posted by Miranda Benson, '16 on Wednesday, August 31, 2016 at 4:38 PM PDT

Case studies are definitely not the most exciting part of getting a degree. For most students, case studies are simply not as effective as intended. Brayden Olson, ’08, wanted to change that—so he founded Recurrence, Inc., a company that brings case studies to life in the form of interactive video games.


Brayden, who majored in Business Management as an undergraduate student, saw firsthand how institutions try to differentiate teaching styles, but often come up short. “Like many students, I felt the disconnect between what I was learning in the classroom and the demands of a 21st Century job,” he explains. “I never felt this was a limitation of the professors or the institution, but a failure of the tools we are empowering them with. This inspired me to think what more we could do to bring experiential learning into the classroom.”


For Brayden, the answer to this problem was video games. With long-term goals of revolution higher education by creating engaging, game-based content, Recurrence, Inc. has started out by making an online game for business students. The game puts students in the roles of executives facing big issues—like labor strikes or layoffs—and gives them the knowledge and power to make the decision. Just like reality, there are consequences for each decision and stakeholders to worry about at all turns. “The students are leaning to think critically while in the virtual shoes of actual leaders in their profession. What could be better than that?”


The institutions that have adopted the game surely agree. Since going commercial in January 2016, Recurrence’s game has been purchased by dozens of schools, including the University of Washington, Stanford University, Penn State University and many others. Brayden and his team have already begun developing a version of the game for academic institutions in India and are in talks to do the same in China. And the response to the game has been overwhelmingly positive—96% of students felt more engaged and said they better understood the material because of the gaming experience.


While Brayden is thrilled by Recurrence’s success, he admits that being an entrepreneur is far more difficult than it seems. “Many entrepreneurs…measure themselves against impossible ideals: you should work 16 hours, sleep 4, wear the same clothes every day, success will come instantly after the equivalent of a 3-minute movie montage, [and] if it doesn’t, you’re on the wrong track and a failure. There are times when I still [hold myself to these ideals].” Brayden keeps himself grounded and focused by thinking of some of the biggest names in business, like Elon Musk, Richard Branson, and Bill Gates, all of whom struggled immensely and didn’t find success until at least their thirties.


To better keep himself away from these high standards, Brayden stays busy outside of Recurrence. He has ownership in numerous businesses, including as a partner at Real Estate Game Works, which is developing a “new gamified continuing education platform” for real estate agents.


Brayden also has a deep commitment to civic engagement. He is on the Board of Washington’s 48th Legislative District and received the signatory pen from Governor Inslee for his work on the Washington J.O.B.S. Act of 2014. He hopes that his involvement rubs off on others: “During the next chapter of my life, I am hoping to see dozens of millennial leaders with servant hearts step into roles of leadership throughout all levels of local government.”


Through all his success, Brayden has remained very conscious of who helped him along the way—including the Seattle U community. “Seattle University helped connect me to my first mentor, who was instrumental in my opportunity to become an entrepreneur.” Brayden says he also owes a lot to Dr. Leo Simpson, Professor Emeritus of the Albers Management Program: “He was highly supportive to me both during and after my education at Seattle University.”


With so many recent advancements in technology, like the launch of augmented reality game Pokémon Go and the creation of virtual reality headset Oculus Rift, Brayden is grateful to be a technology entrepreneur these days. “As someone who grew up in a family of educators and was a beta tester on one of the first 3D virtual worlds, I could not be more thrilled to get to be part of this industry at such a pivotal time!”


You can learn more about Brayden and Recurrence, Inc., on the company website.