Scribblenauts — When Words Come to Life and You Still Don’t Know English

Anything you can imagine… almost

I remember that once, I used to get excited for every game I anticipated. In fact, in 2009, there was this really special game that I looked forward to months in advance. That game, which is now largely forgotten, was called Scribblenauts.

Now, the thing that made Scribblenauts really special is that one feature that made up the natural charm of the game: a notebook where you can write anything about it, and it will materialize right in front of you, so let’s say you write “donkey” and a donkey will show up, or maybe you want a sword so you write down “sword” and you get it. At first glance, this seems awesome in theory, but its execution was less than ideal.

Now, I enjoyed the game for all the shenanigans you can make in it, but the game per se, its offering of missions and whatever narrative it might’ve had doesn’t really deliver when you struggle to understand how the controls work and that the “write down anything to make it happen” feature is kind of awkward. For example, I tried to beat a level using a nuclear bomb (I don’t exactly remember what the specifications were), but I realised that it would kill me too unless I had shelter, so I wrote “shelter” to protect me from the nuclear explosion, but it still killed me. And that’s just one example, as there are many things that won’t align with your imagination because like every video game, it’s only a matter of technicality (I mean, giving a form to every word in the dictionary is quite an endeavour). The sequel was better because it allowed the player to use adjectives this time. Although it solved the issue of how nouns function, I found myself using the same adjectives over and over because nothing else would work, and that’s when it got boring. That’s when I realised that there aren’t many applications in this game. But at least you get to learn English

What’s an “abacus”?

Whether you liked the game or not, there’s no denying the innovation that Scribblenauts introduced at the time, because there was nothing else like it, and even though it was rough in practice because a lot of items shared similar functions, it was a nice effort. If nothing else, it was fun to experiment with the mechanics of the game. Every time I wrote a word in that magic notepad, I had to know what it meant. That’s when I realised what was interesting about the game.

Scribblenauts indirectly teaches you about English words and how they function. Since the game requires the player to know what they are typing down, you are incentivized to know as many words as possible, so clearly does that knew English better had a better time, because they didn’t have to pause the game every five seconds to look up something in the dictionary. At least this way, you’re learning without you even realizing it. But then that presents the problems of whether or not you are required to know the English language in order to play this game?

As a fluent English speaker, this is hardly a problem for me. But if I didn’t know any English, would I be able to play the game? I remember myself as a kid playing Japanese games without understanding the syllabaries of the language, and I got through the menu just fine. In Scribblenauts, however, you need to write words yourself, so if I didn’t know any English, what good would I have in a game where I’m supposed to type in English and understand those words. So, how basic does your English need to be to play Scribblenauts? But more importantly, how do we make it so everyone can play the game regardless of the language?

How many words does the Spanish lexicon have?

Of course, the proper solution is to make the game available in multiple languages. Still, considering the game’s mechanics, it would be kind of a problem considering the astronomical number of words needed to go through. It’s probably even harder in Mandarin given that every character is a word, and there are hundreds of thousands of these… allegedly. If a developer has the money to invest in something that large to solve a language problem, in the sense that the game needs to appeal to a broader audience, they should go for it. But like I said, it would take a lot of money.

Alternatively, you could just play the game with a dictionary by your side. This way, you can play and learn new words (how’s that for passive learning?).

Frankly, the game probably died already I few years back so what good is a solution to an irrelevant problem? Food for thought…

Did you enjoy Scribblenauts?

I swear that game is a love-it-or-hate-it game. As for me? I don’t think I really enjoyed the game when it came out because of how awkward it was to move the character around, and this also applies to the sequel. In any case, be sure to say what you thought of the game when you played… if you played it, that is.

In Conclusion…

Scribblenauts is a fun game if you like to mess around in a sandbox environment and not do anything but experiment with random objects because the game’s mission system is a complete whack. Seriously, I don’t know how to describe it better. The series later had a crossover with DC Comics. I should probably mention that. But until the game comes back, I can’t say for sure that there is any problem that needs solving.

As for the “problem”, if you can’t play the game because you don’t understand English then you probably didn’t find it interesting in the first place. In any case, if you don’t like the game then don’t play it.

At least Maxwell’s a cinnamon roll (that’s the main character).

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