About the game:
In Influent, a language learning game, you explore the apartment of Andrew Cross, an independent inventor. Using his own language-learning device, the “Sanjigenjiten,” you learn (and master) words related to everyday objects in a new language.
How it works:
Using your keyboard and mouse, you control the movement of the character and explore his apartment, an interactive 3D environment comprised of one bedroom/office, one bathroom, a kitchen, and a living room. Clicking on any object lets you view the written word, hear the correct pronunciation, and add the word to your vocabulary list to review later. Crouching and opening doors lead you to discover even more objects (and more words!).
Influent takes on a “sandbox” approach—the player is allowed to roam freely to discover words at their own pace. Progression is measured by a counter, at the top of the screen, showing the number of words the player has collected, as well as the number of words they have mastered. The concept of “mastered” word isn’t clearly explained, but it might be linked to the number of times it has been correctly identified in a “Time Attack!”, a timed memorization minigame. Whenever 10 new words are added to the vocabulary list, the game encourages the player to do a “Time Attack!”, where they test their knowledge of those words by finding and double-clicking on the associated objects.
The “Time Attack!” mode can be made more challenging by turning off audio or text cues or by using words taken randomly from the vocabulary list (there are hundreds of words to collect, so this can get daunting as the player progresses in the game!).
Influent also promotes word associations: By spending “stars” (earned by mastering a word), the player can unlock verbs or adjectives related to a previously collected noun. For example, after learning banana, the player can discover the adjective yellow; after learning paper towel, they can learn the verb to clean.
By letting the player explore the environment and choose which words to learn at their own pace, Influent helps teach a new language in a fun and interactive way (there are, to date, 18 languages to choose from). Moreover, the game focuses on vocabulary deeply connected to our everyday lives (clothes, small appliances, or kitchen utensils, to name a few examples), which makes it feel relevant. Although the apartment sometimes feels like a small space since it doesn’t allow us to see the outside world (the street or the shops, etc.), it does contain hundreds of objects. It is also useful to hear the pronunciation from a native speaker; however, the audio cannot be broken down or slowed.
Although the game does include a number of verbs and adjectives, it doesn’t cover grammar or syntax, which means the player gets no information on how to conjugate verbs or how to construct sentences. In that sense, Influent can only be an additional tool to support language studies.
When I tried Influent, I chose to study Japanese because members of my extended family are from Japan. I have a basic grasp of grammar, syntax, vocabulary, and writing, but I haven’t studied it in the last year or so. Influent allows the player to switch between Romaji mode (Latin characters) and Furigana mode (other characters), which is good news for people who’ve just picked up their studies! I definitely feel like Influent will help me learn new words and, more importantly, memorize them.
In the classroom:
Available on PC, Mac, and Linux, Influent, which includes one language pack, sells for $10 on Steam, with additional language packs at $5 each. On the TeacherGaming store, which offers a variety of educational games and curriculum materials for teachers, Influent “Basic” (English, Spanish, and Latin) sells for $20 U.S. (educators from validated institutions get a 33 percent discount).
Students from elementary to high school can use Influent alongside their language studies to review vocabulary and pronunciation. They will enjoy exploring the apartment freely and besting their own time in the “Time Attack!” challenge.
Teachers can integrate Influent into their lesson plans or assignments. Influent developer Rob Howland told Classcraft, “[TeacherGaming] has been hard at work on a new integrated ‘Learning Analytics Platform’ (called LAP) to allow teachers to track individual student progress within each game on their platform. […] For example, every time a student collects a word, learns a word, or masters a word, the teacher can see these events tracked over time.” This tool, currently in beta, will be useful to assessing students’ development.
Teachers might find the “Hint” tooltip inadequate, as it rapidly glosses over the various options and key bindings without contextualizing them. As the game launches for the first time, the Hint Box tells us how to crouch, how to add a word to our vocabulary list, how to discover “child” objects (objects part of another object, like the pillow on the bed), etc., while our character is standing idly in the middle of his bedroom. That’s a lot of information to take in! It would have felt more effective to add a tutorial where the game guides us step by step through those options, even if it might go against the “free-form” style of the game. A verbal explanation of how the game works, especially with younger students, might be necessary.
Influent’s gameplay makes word memorization more interactive, and unlocking verbs or adjectives related to nouns we’ve already collected can be exciting. The apartment certainly contains an impressive number of words, which can make the game appealing to all language learners.