Ruby Rei feels exciting and different – because it is! It’s an adventure game for language learners, which feels like a step in a new digital direction.
You can easily get started with Ruby Rei by downloading an app as an individual and enjoying the free content (which is limited to the first two levels). Paid-for school licences are also available, which include teacher community and workbook-style materials. For me though, it’s the game itself which is the strength.
Your challenge is to guide Ruby, on a strange planet, to find her robot friend Moli, who’s missing. You explore the planet, meet some interesting characters on the way, and find out more about why Ruby and Moli are there. The journey is divided into different stages, or ‘levels’ of the game, which link together logically. Each level has several tasks or puzzles. The developers of the game, Wibbu, are very clear about the importance of ‘incidental’ learning in Ruby Rei, and that’s exactly how it feels. It’s beautifully designed, which makes it immediately attractive, and the storyline is engaging, so you want to try just one more level …
Language level and skills.
With Ruby Rei you learn, practising your language skills, by playing. At the time of writing, there aren’t many games created especially for language learners. There are lots of language-learning apps and sites with ‘gaming’ qualities, but not many games which also have language-learning qualities. But Ruby Rei is exactly that: it’s an adventure game which gives the player opportunities to interact with the language they want to learn, all as a central part of the gameplay. Perhaps you recommend that learners try playing their favourite games in the English version. I’ve certainly done that, and I’ve also tried playing games in a language I wanted to learn. It was never perfect – sometimes because the language was just too limited or not useful, and sometimes because it was too difficult, which could make it frustrating. Ruby Rei is different. You don’t just select the language your game is in, which can lead to those frustrating moments of misunderstanding — it provides support: you can translate words and phrases, or listen to anything as many times as you want. It feels like it’s made by people who know about learning languages.
It sounds like a normal game, and of course that’s precisely what it is. The great thing is that each stage involves multi-skill communication – in the language you’re learning. Ruby thinks about what she has to do, speaks to other characters, messages Moli when possible, makes recordings and as a player, you’re involved in all of this, from listening to recording your voice, and from reading messages from Moli to typing your replies. You can go as fast or slow as you like.
Language learning content.
Already, you can probably see that Ruby Rei gives lots of communicative practice. There’s no clear set of levels or syllabus, though the language points are built on in the Ruby Rei teaching materials, which you can purchase as part of a school licence.
The nice thing is that it does what it does in a helpful way: certain items of language are repeated and reinforced; you can replay anything anyone says as many times as you want; you always hear and see the text at the same time; you can quickly translate chunks of language in that text if you want to check the meaning (choosing ‘your language’ is important at the beginning).
If your school buys a licence, you can include access to a Teacher Dashboard, which – with associated learner accounts – enables you to see what progress your learners are making within a game.
Social interaction is available for teachers only: a forum for discussions on the game and game-based learning more generally; technical support for teachers if they’re having problems; and a ‘walkthrough’ guide for teachers too. However, you again need to purchase a licence to access these elements.
I would say the game on its own is good enough without a social element. If you have a licence in your school, there’s potential to work in pairs or small groups to complete each level.
Learning through language.
The language focus of the game makes it worth playing to improve English skills only, but it could easily help develop collaboration and communication within small groups of learners, as they make decisions on where to go next as well as managing language challenges. The range of characters in the game also gives plenty of potential for creative extension (developing related storylines, for example).
Supporting teaching and learning.
My first thought is this is perfect for independent study, from upper primary and above. If you’re recommending it to your classes, remember that most of the content is paid for, and only learners with up-to-date Android or iOS devices will be able to use it. Even those who are quite new to gaming should find it intuitive to play.
Apart from this freely available ‘consumer’ version of the app, as mentioned already, there are licences available for schools, with the dedicated features such as the dashboard, teaching materials and teacher forum. However, the information on this, including pricing, is not easily available: the developers prefer you to contact them directly.
Technical: user safety and data security.
They collect data as normal for consumer versions of the game, and for school licences Wibbu also collect and make available data on individual user performance. If you plan to use the game with younger learners, you should be aware that you or your school have responsibility for providing consent for them to use this app.