Bookworm Adventures Deluxe – Linguistic Observations

April 6th, 2009


Having already fried enough grey matter with the seductive strangle of Zuma‘s colour crunching excellence, I figured that I’d take a more traditional route of gaming education and try out another one of Pop Cap’s success stories: Bookworm Adventures.

Bookworm was originally an Up-Words-eqsue word formation game, later the characteristic worm (Lex) made the leap into his own fully realized word ’em up RPG with Bookworm Adventures. The premise is relatively simple, but difficult to muster into words as many simple game mechanics tend to be. The core mechanic is set around a 4×4 grid filled with 16 random letters. You use these letters to form words which power Lex to attack an opposing enemy. Several battles, concluding with a boss battle make up a chapter, and overall Lex has several books to worm his way through. Within this framework, RPG elements are sprinkled throughout such as status effects (poison, burn, freeze), a 6 item inventory (3 items, 3 pre-selected equipment) and powered up attacks through special letter blocks. It’s a very polished package, with a lot of thought invested into it, rounded off by utterly charming characterization. It’s one of those games ideal for playing with a parent or child.

YouTube Preview Image

That’s the low down, you can find some (pretty cruddy) videos on Youtube showing the game in motion. Most of them have the background music muted for some reason, kinda destroys the atmosphere. Anyways, here are some ideas that I wanted to share about the game. You can download a trial version of the game from the PopCap website, and Steam as well. If you’re going to purchase, the Steam version is dramatically cheaper.*

Teaching of Morphemes

Morphemes are chunks of words, such as ‘ment’, ‘ion’, ‘ain’ and so forth. It’s difficult to decipher whether intentional or not, but Bookworm is a fantastic way to, in a sense, re-familiarize yourself with these, or at least become more conscious of them. To play Bookworm is to construct words, and to do that (in English) you look at the grid, piece together some basic morphemes, then try to glue those together to form a complete word. It’s rare that as native speakers we’d ever need to consider such a thing as how our language is constructed, it’s naturally invisible to us yet extremely visible to second language learners of English, which is why I think Bookworm is successful at placing you in the mentality of someone understanding English from an outsider’s perspective; as a second language learner.


Dictionary Deficiencies

Above I mentioned that it was difficult to tell whether or not the morpheme education was/wasn’t intended. I say this because, despite how wonderful Bookworm is, the dictionary sometimes fails to recognize some pretty common words, and yet accepts some bizarre inputs, including straight, meaningless morphemes. I regret not building a list of unrecognized vocabulary to further prove my point, but trust me on this time, the dictionary can be a little off.

Including Word Definitions

I honestly can’t grasp the intended audience for this title. Obviously it has the educational, children’s software attire going for it, but the writing and some of the jokes are particularly high caliber. He’s pretty chic for a little worm! Let’s go with the flow and assume that this is an educational game, it surprised me early on that dictionary definitions were strangely absent. My idea being that you spell a word and maybe the definition of that word appears somewhere on screen. It’d go lengths to justify some of the more obtuse words I guessed up – our inherent grasp of morpheme management makes it easy to sense out random, validated words. There’s also great merit in including definitions for people playing this game co-operatively as a parent-child team. Where the child learns new words from the parent’s assistance.

Pinyin Version

Bilingualism is a curse I couldn’t shake when playing this game. Every so often my mind would identify Chinese pinyin**, throwing me the suggestion that maybe this game could operate in other languages as well. The rules might have to be altered but it’s entirely possible. Character based languages are a little tricky when using the alphabet as an agent for character formation, perhaps radicals (combinations of strokes, the building blocks of the Chinese character system) could be used. For languages that do utilize the alpha system (say Indonesian, nama saya Daniel!), this is entirely possible, so long as adherences are made to the linguistic make up of the respective language (most common letters etc.).

Additional Readings
Eurogamer’s Review
List of  English Morphemes
Does Chinese have an alphabet
How are Chinese words created

*As much as I love this game, that’s not an ad, rather an observation. Seriously, 1/3 the price on Steam! That’s killer.
**Again, WordPress refuses to align pictures correctly, just click the link >_<

  • Lex, you are truly a hero. 😀

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  • David Ross

    Please continue the Final Fantasy project! I really am looking forward to your comments and observations as you work your way through them. I have only played IV and VI (17 years ago)..but until this day they made a huge impact in my life! I havent played any of the others since then (college), but later this year I am going to start with VIII and play through XIII (when it comes out) and go back to VII when Square makes a remake of it one day! Please resolve your hardware issues so you can continue your FF journey!

  • Hey David, don’t fret, my marathon run through the series will continue. It’s just a temporary delay while I look for some suitable solutions to the problem. I’m taking a brief detour with Dragon Quest IV at the moment, which might interest you.

  • Bookworm is super addicting. I watched a couple friends play it once, and i didn’t see what made it so appealing until I played it.