Frustrating Fun

Learning, when it happens, is amazing.

It’s one of the most inspiring experiences a human can have. This is the rationale behind our maxim at Lightneer that learning should be fun for everybody. Since it often turns out that in our educational settings people feel everything but fun when they’re supposed to learn.

So does that mean that what we have set out to do is to remove all obstacles from learning? To make learning the proverbial song and dance?

No. That would be stupid.

Fun does not equal easy.

In fact, if life was constantly easy, it would be super boring. We need problems to solve and obstacles to overome to make life interesting.

A great game is not just sailing from victory to victory. In designing a great game, effort and even frustration are crucial for an engaging play experience. If you don’t need to face difficult obstacles to overcome every now and then, you’ll soon grow bored of the game. Who would want to play Super Mario without the boss battles with Bowser at the end of each world?

The same goes for learning.

If learning objectives are constantly so low and easy you don’t need to put in an effort, you won’t learn. Learning takes work to work.

As Arnold Schwarzenegger put it in his autobiography, the secret of learning is reps, reps, reps. As you get beaten by Bowser again and again, you’ll gradually start to figure out what makes him tick. And eventually you’ll put in enough reps to beat him.

And oh man is it amazing when you do!

Learning, when it happens, is crazy fun. It is specifically the kind of fun that happens when you finally figure new things out – after having put in enough work, enough reps to do it.

My brother, the game designer Petri Järvilehto, once coined a term to describe this phenomenon that applies just as well to great learning experiences as well as great games.

Learning is fun.

Sometimes, perhaps at its best, it is frustrating fun.

That’s how we grow.

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