Ingress for Language Learning

A free location-based game for both Android and iOS mobile devices called Ingress has millions of users interacting worldwide, with each person adding to the game in their own way. However, what is the result of such a player-influenced game, and should it be viewed as anything other than a fun game? Based on Ingress’ large player base (currently at around 7 million active players with over 12 million downloads) and the sustained interactions between players, I suggest that we take Ingress seriously. Instead of brushing it off as an insignificant pastime, I will evaluate Ingress for its potentials as an effective tool for learning about another culture.

To start, an integral part to every culture is language, but Ingress keeps the built-in language to a minimum. The default language is set by the geographic location, although each user can manually change their language, the game relies on the physical location of each player. The premise of the game is that there is a new technology called “Exotic Matter,” XM, which players must pick up by walking, and it allows players to interact with portals and capture or link them for their team. To play, individuals walk to portals or local missions, all of which are created by other players, where users will do up to four actions. They can “hack,” which gives them useful items, “deploy resonators,” which is how a team captures a portal, “attack,” which destroys the other team’s resonators, or “link,” which joins two to three portals from the same team. The goal of the game is to create links for your team and to destroy links for the other team. However, with only these four actions available for basic game-play there is almost no language, so how would this be an effective activity for the language classroom?

The key to second language or culture learning lies in the social interaction based around the game. On a basic level, there is a forum where people can post messages for players in their area, but this is only the surface level of interaction. More integrally, all of the portals and missions are created by players and usually linked to landmarks of cultural or social importance. Usually, this translates into portals centered on unique buildings, landmarks, and pieces of art in a community. In many cases, these portals can show hidden or more creative aspects of an area, e.g. street art, beautiful plants, or unusual sights. In both of these examples, forums and portals, Ingress pushes players to interact individually with their surrounding area and community and collaborate around a real-world common task – community exploration. As a tour guide, Ingress serves as a means to discover a new, or even a very familiar, area, that can then lead to language activity tied to places, experiences, and collaborative problem solving. For example, learners could be asked to find ten portals relevant to a certain theme or follow a mission dedicated to a social problem. They can then engage in interpersonal communication around this topic or create a piece of presentational writing designed to offer a formal analysis of the cultural relevance.

Many people write about using Ingress as a way to discover new cities while traveling in the Americas, Europe, and Asia, and one need only look at the Ingress world map to understand why: Simply put, there are nodes all around the world; there is even one in Antarctica. Due to its widespread popularity and the fact that it’s curated by locals, Alissa Walker, a writer for, claims that Ingress “is probably one of the best ways to get out and explore any place on the planet on foot.” Although Walker’s insight is mostly for urban areas, Ingress has been downloaded more than 12 million times (, which means that local portals represent a wide variety of perspectives and interests. This could be extremely valuable for traveling and looking for urban places off the beaten path.

In addition, not all Ingress interactions are solely individual; many aspects of Ingress help to create communities over time. For example, there is a large Ingress community on Google+, but the stronger social aspect comes from local communities that meet regularly in person. Ingress is credited by many as a way to “get out of their shell” and become part of a community, while at the same time it is a tool for discovering new areas and getting exercise (Henry, Much of this is due to the role that communities of people play in shaping the overall Ingress experience. From creating portals, forums, and coordinated events, Ingress is the culmination of players’ collective participation. Furthermore, Ingress reinforces cooperation by giving subtle advantages to a group working together in lieu of many individuals.

Ingress’ model of a community-centered mobile game suggests a different outlook as to how we should think of our mobile devices. We are often told that our phones are objects that isolate us from others (Turkle,, and that they stand in the way of meaningful connection, but perhaps Ingress can be one of the many exceptions to this public opinion. John Hanke, the Ingress project lead, encourages gamers to use it as an occasion to discover and connect: “The [Ingress] game mechanic is there as an incentive, and it nudges people to get out, meet new people and discover new places” (Smith,, and in learning about another culture, does it not come down to meaningful, cross-cultural connections? Nevertheless, Ingress as a game is anything but prescriptive. Similar to how the green and blue teams in Ingress are playing to determine whether humans should either embrace or reject an unknown technology, the same could be said for the position of mobile technology in connecting humans. Are we rejecting it, or are we instead looking as to how this new technology could be used to help us connect with others? Ingress is not a solution, rather, it is an opportunity for us to discover, engage, and connect.

By Dega  Westerhoff-Mason


Rosetta Stone App for Xbox: A Summary of Our Experience

Rosetta Stone recently launched a new application on the Xbox One game console, which allows users to engage with English and Spanish from the comfort of their own couch. Using text, speech, pictures, and live recordings of actors, Rosetta Stonethe app takes advantage of the gaming platform to expose players to the language they want to learn. Since Rosetta Stone is now available on a game console, it seemed relevant to, at least, touch on it here.

In the first five minutes of play, it becomes apparent the Xbox version is not really a game. As a result, we decided not to do a full game review, but rather briefly summarize our experience.

The application does offer the same features as many other Rosetta Stone products. We summarize a few here:

  • The ‘Discovery Center‘ allows players to visit some generic locations such as an airport, a hotel, and a restaurant, using the controller to interact with various objects in the environment. Clicking on an object that has crosshairs on it will give the player the Spanish spelling of the word along with the English translation, along with the Spanish pronunciation (if the player chose to learn Spanish). Ultimately, this is exploration via word translation.
  • The player can engage in controlled dialogues with certain characters in the game. When clicked on, the camera zooms into the still image of the character who is replaced with a live actor who speaks in the target language. A transcript of the conversation scrolls along the left side of the screen, allowing the player to go back and read the conversation so far, and can even click on individual items to hear them repeated. When giving a response, the player is given a sentence with a piece missing and chooses the appropriate item(s) to fill in the blank. If it is correct, the player receives positive feedback from the game, with the correct response turning green followed by a pleasant chiming sound and the oral recitation of the sentence. If it is incorrect, the player gets negative feedback, with the item turning red and an off-key chime signaling the player to try again. If an item is missed too many times, the game provides a rather abundant hint, highlighting the correct response for a brief moment so that the player can continue.
  • Several resources that target specific language features are at the player’s disposal. At any time, the player can go to the ‘phrase book’ to look up definitions and spellings of words, with a complementary picture and oral recitation to assist different kinds of learner preferences.
  • The ‘Training Zone’ offers grammar explanations to aid the player in understanding conjugations and word order, as well as some games focusing on listening discrimination and identification of vocabulary items.
  • The player can also access the ‘Journal,’ which will show the player’s progress through the game by showing an overall percentage of items completed as well as a list of completed items (e.g.. places, conversations, objects, etc.).

Much like products for other platforms, the pedagogical focus of the application remains grammar translation, dictation, and structural accuracy, Two major omissions are a focus on strategic language use or cultural authenticity.  The scenes feel generic, and relatively void of, or explicitly lacking, cultural accuracy. For example, the airport does not look, feel, or sound like an airport in the majority of the Spanish-speaking world. While not possible all the time, a release on the Xbox One would benefit a great deal from attention to the possibilities of such a robust gaming platform.

The free version takes about one hour to complete, but the player can return to the previous locations at any time to revisit conversations and interact with everything to reach 100% completion. In terms of the product itself, the point-and-click style of gameplay is more comfortable with a mouse and keyboard, and I found myself trying to scroll over some items and becoming frustrated when I could not. Also, a few noticeable bugs cropped up on my play-through, such as a live actor not showing up on screen for certain lines of dialogue and the player character’s voice uttering a line of dialogue in a feminine voice when it should have been masculine. Minor glitches, but unexpected on the platform.

If you are interested in the new Rosetta Stone app and what it has to offer, you can check out the link to their blog website is here.

Check back soon for more updates!


Take Online Course on How Literature is Adapted to Online Games

Hello everyone,

A new online course is being offered at by Jay Clayton – professor of English at Vanderbilt University – entitled ‘Online Games: Literature, New Media, and Narrative.’ This 6-week long course – from April 27 to June 6 – will focus on the work of J. R. R. Tolkien and the way that his literature has been adapted to movies and more specifically the online game ‘The Lord of the Rings Online.’ More information about the course itself, frequently asked questions, and how to sign up is offered here.

Please take a look if you are interested!


Webinar for Gamification and Learning – April 28 @ 11:00 PST

Hello all,

There is an upcoming webinar hosted by Karl Kapp and Deborah Thomas entitled “Gamification and Learning: Engaging Students with Interactive Curricula.” The webinar will take place Tuesday, April 28 – one week from today – at 11:00 A.M. PST. The main topics of discussion will include:

  • The meaning of ‘gamification’
  • Strategies for integrating games into curricula
  • Skills and lessons best taught with games
  • Game elements most effective in academics

If you are at all interested in observing and interacting with those who are proficient in utilizing game-based learning, take a look at the full link here to get more information and register for the webinar there!