Darien Morris is the Co-Founder & CEO of Hyperthought Games, an educational gaming studio with the mission of helping build a world in which people have access to opportunities for personal and professional growth, regardless of the language they were brought up speaking. The first game being released is Lingo Legend.
At the end of 2019, you ventured out to create an educational game studio called Hyperthought Games. What was the inspiration behind launching a new gaming studio?
I grew up in a very multicultural city, and I was always intrigued by other kids who spoke more than one language. It felt like a superpower that I didn’t have. Up until my mid-twenties I went through phases of unsuccessfully trying to learn new languages. As it turns out, my initial excitement was not enough. For most people, learning a language takes years of hard work to achieve their goals, and for me it was super difficult to stay motivated for that long. At the end of 2019 I was ready for a big career move, and I wanted to create something for language learners that focused as much on engagement as it did on learning, to solve the problems that I had faced years earlier. At Hyperthought Games we are creating video games that not only help you learn a new language, but are inspired by the games we love to play and are designed to keep you motivated and having fun long enough to reach your goals.
Why is learning a new language so difficult the traditional way?
Learning a language is challenging because it is so multifaceted — It isn’t just about learning grammar, vocabulary, and developing an accent. Depending on the language you might need to learn how to read and write different characters, how to change the intonation in your voice to pronounce words correctly, how cultural norms impact what you should say, and so on.
One of the biggest mistakes people make is underestimating what it will take to learn a language, and look for shortcuts. But by going into it thinking you are going to become fluent by using a single app for 15 minutes a day, you are setting yourself up for failure. Instead, you need to set reasonable goals and use a variety of tools for learning. We believe that in order to be successful, one of those tools should be dedicated to maintaining your engagement. For intermediate to advanced learners, consuming entertainment like movies or books is great for engagement but this doesn’t work as well for beginners. If comprehension is low it's hard to get enjoyment out of most forms of entertainment. Think about trying to balance a scale between doing something that is challenging and engaging, the more challenging, the less engaging, and vice versa. As a beginner, it’s really hard to find content that balances well. That’s the problem we are solving with Lingo Legend.
How did you initially come across the concept for Lingo Legend?
Educational games need to embed learning into the game design in a way that balances efficacy with engagement. It all starts with what you are trying to teach, and we chose to focus mostly on vocabulary and phrases through flash cards because it was content that could be learned by all skill levels, including beginners who have the most trouble staying motivated. Flash cards, though an important tool in your toolbelt, are not very engaging and so we thought we could significantly improve the experience.
When it comes to game design, we needed gameplay that would allow you to practice flash cards in rapid succession, but had the depth and longevity that would keep you engaged for long enough to be a valuable learning tool. We were inspired by card-based games we love such as Slay The Spire and Hearthstone, as they are able to generate a lot of replayability through the depth of their card systems. We also looked to roleplaying games for progression systems such as questing and crafting that would ensure that players are always making progress and experiencing something new as they learn. All of these elements and more were combined to make Lingo Legend a unique card-based roleplaying game that we think will appeal to all types of gamers.
How does gamifying learning a new language make the process of learning so much easier?
When you are learning something as monumental as a new language, you have to think about it more like a marathon than a sprint. How can you make sure your learning is sustainable in the long run? We’ve spoken about how educational games can be a useful tool to keep you motivated while ensuring you are consistently making progress, but they are also great at reducing pressure and building confidence.
Everybody struggles at some point in their learning journey, and it can get very frustrating to work at a single concept for so long even if it is important to do so. We’ve built several progression systems into Lingo Legend so that even if you are taking longer to master a set of verbs or phrases, you will still be winning battles, getting new cards, completing quests, and progressing the story forward. This decreases the pressure you might put on yourself to move on to a new concept, and instead allows you to take the time you need to learn without feeling like you are stuck in the game.
What are the different languages that are offered and how many words or phrases can be learned in each?
At the moment, we have French, German, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese available. We are currently working on Japanese and Korean. Each language has over 3,700 words and phrases organized around useful themes and grammatical concepts.
In our content development, we strive to provide practical value. We imagined situations someone might encounter from when they are first introduced to a foreign language up until immersion. Units and topics are organized to align with that journey. We also appreciate that every language learner is different which is why we give the learner the option to override the default selection and choose the content they want to practice.
How many hours per week are recommended for gamers to learn?
That really depends on your goals and your timeline. If your goal is to become conversationally fluent in a short period of time you are going to have to devote a good chunk of your waking hours to learning. Not everyone’s goal is fluency though, and that’s totally ok.
We expect most learners to use Lingo Legend for 15-30 minutes per day so roughly 1.5 to 4 hours per week. Though we encourage daily usage, we don’t believe in streaks so you won’t find those in our game.
Is there anything else that you would like to share about Hyperthought Games or Lingo Legend?
Lingo Legend is currently in early access — players can sign up on our website and invites go out in waves. As I mentioned above, learning a language is a real-life super power and we have a ton of respect for anyone doing it. We love connecting with learners and players and are super active on twitter, where we share game updates and our thoughts on language learning.
Thank you for the great interview, readers who wish to learn more or sign-up for beta access should visit Lingo Legend.