OtherWordly’s galactic word quest invites players to solve a mystery, connect related words, and – in the process – enhance their critical engagement and adaptive thinking skills.

Help beta test this iOS mobile game app by signing up on the OtherWordly website. Go to the 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 easy-to-read definitions, 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 11 years, we developed a game designed for all ages, abilities, and cultures. Vocabulary difficulty is auto-adjusted on a 15-point scale to accommodate everyone from English learners to wordsmiths. Tailored content is provided for children grades 1-6. OtherWordly contains a unique blend of everyday and lesser-known words, ranging from rockets to raspberries, Picasso to penguins. The game’s expansiveness invites players to engage in word association, recognize letter patterns, and engage with cross-cultural historic and social topics.

girl_happyOne of our goals is to help solve low literacy and narrow vocabularies. A typical 15-year-old whose first language is English 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 with a visually dynamic, kinetic space. With just one finger, players navigate a unique gameplay experience that combines linguistic puzzles with physics-based strategy. They engage in mental gymnastics by launching a central word into related, orbiting words while dodging obstacles and activating power-ups. 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.”

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. In “Kid Mode,” content crafted by teachers delivers easy-to-access word definitions and relatable themes. Topics include fun subjects like ice cream and dinosaurs and important concepts like self-confidence and bullying.

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.

Beyond Vocabulary

In a world where information is often presented in black-and-white terms, OtherWordly offers an immersive, personalized, and intellectually stimulating environment that encourages players to contemplate the complexities and nuances of various issues, fostering critical engagement and adaptive thinking. This skillset is crucial in a world where the ability to recognize one-dimensional arguments, discern truth from fiction, and express oneself authentically is often lacking. Through sustained interaction with the game, players become attuned to multiple perspectives on complex issues and develop problem-solving skills using divergent thinking strategies, paving the way for more effective communication and leadership.

Support for OtherWordly

In mid-July 2023, OtherWordly received a grant from the National Science Federation to develop AI-based algorithms that generate content for word-meaning video games at an affordable cost, develop filters for natural language content, and evaluate a word-meaning game’s ability to improve cognitive function and social awareness.

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: 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. Moving 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: OtherWordly 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.
  • GAMEPLAY: Players can choose from three game modes to match their mood and ambition. Space debris and mines create obstacles to winning, while energy orbs deliver an unexpected boost.
  • NARRATIVE: Players explore the expansive Alphazoid Prime galaxy, home to the word-loving Termarians, and unravel a mystery of galactic misunderstanding.
  • MEANINGFUL: OtherWordly is intellectual without being pedantic.

Who’s talking about OtherWordly?


OtherWordly won “Most Innovative Game” at 2019 Game Daily Connect and was also the runner-up for “Best Kids and Family Game.” It was a finalist for 2021 “Best Casual Game” and was named 2020’s “Best Educational or Serious Game” by TIGA Awards. Serious Play recognized OtherWordly as the “Games for Good” winner in 2021, and CODiE named OtherWordly “Best Educational Game” in 2021. In 2020 and 2022, OtherWordly was selected for the MAGFest Indie Showcase. OtherWordly has also received awards and accolades from Reimagine Education, Develop:Brighton, GEE! Learning Game Awards, EdTech Creator Challenge, Big Indie Pitch, AwesomeCon, EdTech Awards, and MEGAMIGs. In 2019, we were invited speakers to the Dictionary Society of North America conference.


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 publicly launched in Fall 2024.

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