If you’ve ever tried to learn a language, you know how difficult it can be. According to the Foreign Services Institute, the “easiest” languages, like French and Spanish, take over 700 hours to learn! And that’s a figure for diplomats, guided by a native speaker, studying full time. If you’re on your own, then even if you’re very disciplined, it’s going to be quite a task to force yourself to sit down and study grammar and vocabulary, day after day, for a total of 700 hours…
There are just too many distractions out there. Like videogames, for example. Of course, with videogames, the problem is sort of the inverse of the language learning problem: videogames are fun, so it’s very easy to let yourself play for hundreds of hours, but when you’re finished, you’ll have nothing to show for it.
So what if the two could be combined? If there was a video game that could teach you a new language, both problems would be solved. If it’s fun, you can play it for hundreds of hours with no internal struggle; and if it’s a complete and effective language course, you’re not wasting your time by playing it, since the hundreds of hours you spend playing it are actually spent studying language.
‘Lingwall’ is that game. It incorporates Foreign Service Institute language courses into a roguelike rpg. The FSI courses were developed by the US government to teach languages to diplomats, and represent some of the most effective language learning tools ever made. Roguelike video games are famously addictive–due to a feeling of constantly growing power as you gain experience and skill–and playable for years, due to their procedurally-generated content.
Why does constantly growing power make roguelikes (and rpgs in general) so addictive? Probably due to the feeling of *productivity* brought about by building up a character, and because this process is immediately rewarding. Suppose Gorgoth is a dungeon boss your character can’t beat. Play for one more hour and your character might advance three levels and find an artifact that slays Gorgoth with a single blow. The progress is obvious and unmistakable. Now suppose Juanita is a native speaker of Spanish who you can’t yet understand. Study Spanish for one hour–or ten–and there will be no obvious progress the next time you speak to her.
The difference is that the rpg tricks your brain into feeling more productive when you’re playing than when you’re studying. ‘Lingwall’ is a roguelike rpg that uses this ability to trick your brain into believing you’re being productive… to trick you into being productive.