“The game actually doesn’t teach you anything,” Lauri Järvilehto told me over lunch in Helsinki, Finland. I scratched my head, because Järvilehto, 39, is a co-founder and the CEO of a Finnish education gaming company called Lightneer, which is poised to launch its first app, “Big Bang Legends,” in the coming months. I thought “teaching”is what these learning apps are supposed to do.
Järvilehto’s road to co-founding Lightneer is as intriguing as his clothing style. (The day we chatted, he wore a black T-shirt with a huge Batman logo, a yellow hooded sweatshirt, yellow sneakers, and an Apple Watch with a yellow band.) At the age of 17, Järvilehto began a 10-year career as a pop-music producer in Finland, but eventually burned out, moved to France, and started reading philosophers like Plato. Then he returned to Helsinki to pursue a master’s degree in philosophy (just for fun), after which he received a Ph.D., got hired to consult Rovio’s video-game franchise Angry Birds on education issues, and eventually wrote a 2014 book called Learning as Fun. Then in October 2015, Järvilehto founded Lightneer with another Rovio alum.
Järvilehto’s criticism of today’s learning apps is that they tend to focus on drilling content (the work of traditional “teaching”), which makes for pretty boring games. On the other hand, the glaring problem with hit mobile games, such as Candy Crush and Pokémon Go, is that they don’t facilitate useful, real-world learning (although they are ridiculously fun to play). Lightneer seeks to address these shortcomings by developing the world’s first “mainstream” learning game, through emphasizing fun and embedding meaningful learning. As apparent proof that this strategy works, Järvilehto told me a little story.