I had the opportunity to volunteer for SpecialEffect at this year’s Rezzed event, an amazing organisation that helps people with physical disabilities to play video games. The stand opposite us in the Indie Room was staffed by the lovely team from Wibbu and it’s partly thanks to them that we were kept so busy. Lots of attendees were attracted to their new mobile game and after they’d played, we took the opportunity to lure them over and introduce them to charity. Sneaky.
I’m not a huge fan of mobile titles (the only one I’ve ever actually enjoyed was The Room and I can get that on PC now anyway) so I was surprised to see the large number of people that visited the Wibbu guys throughout the duration of the expo. What was it about Ruby Rei that got people so intrigued? By the end of the event I just had to find out for myself and so I spent some time playing through the first few chapters.
Players guide space explorer Ruby Rei on her journey across an unknown alien world after she crash-lands and sets out to save her missing robot friend. The game is linear and occasional puzzles are simple, but what makes it special is that the protagonist and characters around her speak entirely in Spanish: the language is learnt through gameplay. When a dialogue box pops up, you’re able to click on the words for a translation if you’re not sure what they mean and the voice-acting allows you to hear how a sentence should be pronounced.
What I didn’t realise was that Wibbu is an educational video game studio from London, founded by CEO Dean Jacobs in 2013 through his desire to teach languages in a more engaging way and passion for new technologies. The team is made up of both developers and teachers, and they believe they can foster genuine motivation by crafting immersive titles and emphasise interaction and entertainment over traditional teaching methods.
My stepson is still in primary school and I’ve seen him introduced to several ‘edutainment’ games as teachers try to come up with new ways to get their classes interested in learning. There are two problems I’ve witnessed: Ethan either realises the titles aren’t really a ‘video game’ and then stops paying attention; or he’s asked to compete in timed competitions against other players and the pressure puts him off completely. Based on what I saw at SpecialEffect at this year’s Rezzed, it’s possible that Ruby Rei may succeed where others have failed.
Wibbu (@wibbu_studios) April 01, 2017
Wibbu doesn’t want players to feel as if they’re using an educational tool and at no point during the demo did I get the impression I was being taught. The game lets you do things at your own pace and there’s no timed sessions, tests or grading; it’s just you playing a casual adventure title that happens to be in Spanish. And speaking from my own experience, it’s surprising just how much of the language you’re able pick up in a short space of time.
Ruby herself is an adventurous and curious character who’s ready for a challenge. She wants to make new friends, explore new cultures and find ways to express herself – exactly the things it takes to be successful in learning a new language, as pointed out by the developer. Their goal in creating Ruby was to make her enthusiasm infectious and encourage players to see every problem as merely an opportunity to learn something new.
Ruby Rei is already available on iOS and Android for only £2.99 and it seems as if there’s scope for further languages to be added to the game later. For more information, head over to the official website or follow the Wibbu team on Twitter.