IDEA developed its mobile language game, OtherWordly, to impart the joy of language to a large audience, giving them an opportunity to develop their vocabularies and literacy skills. Over a period of six years, we created a game that presents the intellectual challenge of crossword puzzles (deciphering words from a few letters and clues) in a new context and, in the process, exposes players to thousands of words.

Many people love to play arcade games on mobile devices – however, they aren’t necessarily word buffs. To introduce this audience to new words and word relationships, we combined our language-related tools, research, and expertise to create an engaging arcade game built on the match-three mechanic (e.g., Bejeweled) with whimsical characters, entertaining dynamics, and compelling strategy and skill requirements.


OtherWordly appeals to players ages 12 and up and across the spectrum of incomes, education levels, and genders. The 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 will think about word recognition, meanings, and relationships. Throughout 150 game levels, players evaluate and consider more than 40,000 possible words (seeing a random subset each time they play) organized into more than 1,400 sets of related words and antonyms and more than 650 trivia sets. Some of these words will be outside of their current vocabulary. As a result, the game introduces players to previously unknown words.


The core gameplay revolves around evaluating clue words against orbiting words to determine possible matches, and then using touch to connect them to related orbiting words. 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.”

The arcade game elements keep players engaged, which paves the way for more learning. There are 15 unique sidekicks that deliver power-ups, such as zapping, freezing, and blasting obstacles. The orbiting words are randomized. Players must strategize timing and sequencing moves to complete sets of three matching words while avoiding obstacles. Optional hints help players achieve their goals more easily – and expand their vocabulary along the way.

Go to web site for the app.

Coming Spring 2020.

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