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.
Learning 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 as 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.
Who is Ruby Rei?
Ruby is the main character in the story. Ruby and her robot friend, Moli, have crashed on a strange planet. You guide Ruby on a journey to find Moli, who’s now missing. You explore the planet, meet some interesting characters on the way, and also find out more about why Ruby and Moli crashed there. The journey is divided into different stages, or ‘levels’ of the game. Each level has several tasks or puzzles for you to do.
It sounds like a normal game, and of course that’s exactly what it is. The great thing is that each stage involves 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 these, from listening to recording your voice, and from reading messages from Moli to typing your replies.
Already, you can probably see that Ruby Rei gives lots and lots of communicative practice. The nice thing is that it does it 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 (this is why choosing ‘your language’ is important at the beginning).
How to use it
Ruby Rei’s greatest potential is obviously for individual learners to play, and higher primary, secondary and even adult learners could enjoy it. 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 … However, be careful if you’re recommending it for independent study, as most of the content is paid for (two levels are free), and only learners with up-to-date Android or iOS devices will be able to use it.
The game is best for learners who are familiar with gaming but, once they understand the basics, even those who are new to gaming should find it intuitive to play. There’s potential for building in-class activities around Ruby Rei and you can work with it as you would work with a short story or a graded reader. You could begin by introducing Ruby and some of the characters, build on some of the language in the game, and end with creating further adventures for Ruby and the other characters. If learners work together playing the game, there is lots of natural communicative language they would need to use to decide how to help find Ruby. There’s a forum on the website for questions about the game or about language, there’s excellent support for teachers if they’re having problems, and a ‘walkthrough’ for teachers will be available soon. But the game on its own is good enough — English language teaching materials don’t really ever seem to change that much, but Ruby Rei is something new and quite exciting, and it’s well worth recommending.