OtherWordly’s galactic word quest invites players to solve a mystery, match related words, and – in the process – expand their vocabularies.

Help beta test this iOS mobile game app by signing up on the OtherWordly website. Go to website.

This educational iOS app entices players to learn new words in order to complete each level, which consists of sets of synonyms, antonyms, and trivia. During and after gameplay, players can consult top-quality literature excerpts for word meaning and usage, leading to positive experiences with new and less common words. OtherWordly keeps players entertained in learning-by-doing with an enticing narrative, captivating characters, evolving challenges, and digital rewards. Evaluation is deeply embedded to measure learning progress.

Who is the game for?

IDEA developed OtherWordly to share the joy of language with a large audience, giving them an opportunity to develop their vocabularies and literacy skills. Over a period of nine years, we developed a game that targets an audience of casual mobile game players aged 15+. We seek to help solve the problem of low literacy and narrow vocabularies. In our poorest communities in the U.S. and UK, one in three people has literacy challenges. Low literacy is intergenerational, so boosts within any age group have spillover benefits. Mobile phones and gameplay are now common across generations and socioeconomic classes.

girl_happyA typical 15-year-old knows 19,000 unique words (counting inflections like “quick/quickly” as one). By age 25, that rises to 25,000, and increases another quarter over a person’s lifespan. But there exists a broad vocabulary range that is strongly correlated to years of schooling, socioeconomic background, and how much someone reads. For 25-year-olds, the gap between the lowest 20% and highest 80% is over 12,000 words. That gap in vocabulary impacts peoples’ ability to obtain and retain employment, to critically consume media, and to have nuanced conversations in a world that has an increasing number of text-based conversations.

Those who play OtherWordly briefly each day are exposed to thousands of words monthly and more than 10,000 words annually. OtherWordly requires players to combine the necessary skills used in crosswords (word meaning, synonym knowledge, and cultural application) together with word puzzle skills (spelling and letter usage), and leverage those skills simultaneously.


What does the game do?

Learning rote vocabulary can be boring, but OtherWordly solves this problem by gamifying it. OtherWordly offers the player an engaging way to add to their active vocabulary and gain a deeper understanding of their existing vocabulary.

Many people love to play arcade games on mobile devices, but they aren’t necessarily word buffs. OtherWordly entices them to embrace the world of words. Gameplay involves flinging core words into related orbiting words within a visually dynamic, kinetic space. The orbiting words have some letters obscured. For example, if one of the clue words is “fruit,” the player might correctly guess that the partially hidden word – which may read “a?pl?” – is “apple.”

Most English speakers know between 20,000 and 35,000 words. Shakespeare’s entire corpus encompasses about 25,000 words, including at least 1,700 – like alligator, gossip, and hurry – that he invented or introduced. OtherWordly exposes players to 30,000 unique words and passages from 1,000 published works. For every in-game word, there’s an example of usage from a literary source. Those sources include Pulitzer prize-winning fiction and nonfiction works. In the early 1940s, Edgar Dale used a cone metaphor to describe how different methods of learning impact knowledge retention. “Doing” was most impactful, delivering a 90% gain. Gaming is an act of “doing,” and thus ranks higher than other modes of learning. OtherWordly, a game that requires the analysis and comparison of words and phrases, is likely to have a positive impact on a player’s cognitive ability to more effectively master language.

Because of the immense popularity of casual mobile games, including puzzle and word games, our goal is for OtherWordly to be widely played by students and the general public. We look to history and the profound, but waning, popularity of the crossword puzzle. OtherWordly represents an intellectual corollary to the crossword. Since the early 20th century, crossword puzzles have been a beloved pastime to millions of people. But the crossword puzzle has become a more niche activity, a relic of the past. Crosswords are ideal on newsprint with a pencil. They don’t play well on a small smartphone. OtherWordly is a new innovation that taps into the mental process that crossword players crave. It can be played in bite size chunks, and has a tangible, physical feel as players fling words with one finger. Unlike crosswords, which have a known problem that their clues and content are biased toward a generally older, white audience, we have intentionally selected diverse, multicultural, and multi-generational trivia topics.

OtherWordly’s gameplay hooks players, then exposes them to words that reside in their active, inactive, and unknown vocabularies. An immersed player can easily spend tens of hours playing OtherWordly; as they play, they think about word recognition, meanings, and relationships. Throughout 180 game levels, players evaluate and consider more than 30,000 possible unique words.

What’s cool about it?

The learning app has the following key innovations:

  • CONTENT: We built a massive thesaurus and thousands of conceptual topic maps based on the Library of Congress catalog. Our computer algorithm selected non-overlapping topics, which our content editor then handcrafted. This multi-year undertaking is unparalleled in game production.
  • CONTEXT & FEEDBACK: We devised a pool of excerpts from literature and periodicals. OtherWordly incorporates two timeless game elements – missing letters and trivia – into a puzzle framework. We created an interactive narrative with charming characters, a mystery for players to unravel, and in-game rewards.
  • ANIMATION: OtherWordly’s technologically innovative mechanics and programming draw players in, delivering smooth animations, captivating designs, and physics-based motion that feels natural on mobile devices.
  • EVALUATION: OtherWordly is a perfect testbed for controlled data collection because the thousands of small in-game actions can be analyzed for statistically significant calculations. Players typically replay a level a few times to win. For example, a player who was unable to match the word “facetious” twice could look it up and then correctly match it to “jocular” the third time. Since we know the probability of luck-based shots, we can calculate aggregate improvements as percentages with estimated statistical accuracy.
  • FILLING A GAP: OtherWordly engages people who would not otherwise expand their vocabulary and improve their diction. Beyond a core audience of word enthusiasts, we capture the attention of players who wouldn’t pick up a crossword or consult a dictionary.
  • ACCESSIBILITY: Our game features many accommodations, including variable difficulties and speeds, low-vision and colorblind settings, an alternate font option for dyslexic players, screen-reader and Braille display support, and accessibility for players with motor difficulties.
  • HAIKU: OtherWordly exposes players to cool, space-themed Haiku during the game’s pause screens.
  • MEANINGFUL: OtherWordly is intellectual without being pedantic.

Who’s talking about OtherWordly?


We’ve won “Most Innovative Game” at 2019 Game Daily Connect (a game industry convention), where OtherWordly was also the runner-up for “Best Kids and Family Game.” In 2019, we were invited speakers to the Dictionary Society of North America conference. In 2020, OtherWordly was showcased at MAGFest 2020 (pre-COVID gaming convention) and the Tokyo Game Show (virtual gaming convention). We were awarded Third Place in Big Indie Pitch 2020 (game developer competition).


Try it out yourself

If you have an iOS device you can learn more about the game or sign up to be a beta tester at the OtherWordly website. We anticipate that OtherWordly will be public launched in February 2021.

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