Keep obscure languages (such as Irish) alive via free videogames?

My Irish host’s son is just finishing what we would call high school. At great cost to the Irish taxpayer and himself he is now fluent in Irish. I asked whether this had any practical value. “Not really,” he replied. “There are only about 80,000 speakers of Irish.” Had he ever used Irish outside of the classroom or organized immersion program? “No.” Would he be able to use Irish to shop at the local supermarket or any other nearby merchant? “Not a chance.”

Did the Irish language have any communication value? I.e., among those 80,000 speakers were there any who did not speak English? “Maybe somewhere on the Aran Islands you could find one person.”

How can he possible maintain his fluency under these circumstances?

One idea: Dedicate 1 percent of the current Irish instruction budget to developing video games and apps that require reading, writing, listening, and speaking Irish. Give them away free. Refuse to make a version in any other language, no matter how popular a game becomes. If successful, maybe young people in China will learn Irish so as to be able to enjoy the games.

Readers: Could this work? Would it be more cost-effective than other methods of keeping a mostly-dead language alive?

9 thoughts on “Keep obscure languages (such as Irish) alive via free videogames?

  1. This is one of the best ways of getting started with a foreign language too. Especially if the game authors are smart about picking the right words that motivate their core audience.

    My first Cantonese word as a non-Asian teenager was a certain D-word (an English equivalent would be the F-word). I was off to a good start.

  2. I hesitate to post this since, well, it’s you, and you may have already done homework, but I threw this together anyway. It’s a hodgepodge but maybe there’s something good here:

    I like the video game idea. From from what I can tell, it hasn’t been done a million times before in Ireland. It’s been tried, but previous efforts were limited and anemic. So think bigger. Think better. Think recurring, self-sustaining and with a real-world, cultural component.

    Prior art: This is all I could find in a brief search, and the pickings are slim. There was some interest in Irish language video gaming circa 2012-13, but it certainly didn’t take the world by storm and I don’t see any current efforts. The product was no Call of Duty, Doom, Quake, Minecraft, World of Warcraft, or even World of Goo or Pac Man.

    From 2012:
    There’s also a reddit thread from 2013:

    Dead Hungry Diner strikes me as a very niche game of limited appeal from a long time ago, which is good because a fresh attempt can be accurately portrayed a complete reboot. I think you’d need something truly cutting edge done by developers who come up with:

    #1 A knock-people’s-socks-off game that is
    #2 Irish Language Only with Bonuses
    #3 In That Order!!

    It should be a great game and kids should dig it…because they dig it. It can’t be a homework assignment kind of thing, they have to want to love it all by itself. That doesn’t necessarily entail a lot of people at the beginning (World of Goo was developed by just two men). In my hare brained scheme you also keep the game alive through buy-in from organizations that already work to promote the Irish language.

    Imagine it updates every year and includes real world components and activities. My thinking is that players win prizes solo, or compete to win real-world prizes and go to Earthly destinations — but only in Ireland! The “meatspace” social components can be varied, ranging from small things that one gamer can win at a local shop, to events, promotions and meetups that recur annually – Pokémon with a twist. It cannot get old after a year, a one-hit wonder. World of Goo was a ***fantastic game*** but despite all kinds of happytalk, World of Goo Two never materialized, much to the chagrin of Goo Enthusiasts everywhere. People can and do make Goomods, but I’ve never heard of any real-world GooCons.

    Categorical Imperative: what you definitely don’t want is to have people renting offshore game slaves to win points or anything else that can be redeemed as prizes. Having people in China want to learn Irish by playing a kick-ass game is one thing, but if you give away prizes based on a system that can be outsourced and subverted with sweatshop labor it turns into something evil. I still like the idea of prizes and promotions, but I’m not enough of a game enthusiast these days to know how best to go about it.

    You are describing a studio that releases a suite of games and apps., some derived from the original and including smaller, less ambitious spinoffs and alternatives that appeal to different audiences. Old and young alike should know the name of this organization. This could be where 1% of the budget and wider participation and promotion from outside organizations comes in:

    I wonder if anyone at the Conrade na Gailege or its Associated Orgs. (scroll down) or ULTACH (Northern Ireland) have given any thought to this? English
    ULTACH is very small (one person part time two days/wk.) but check out their NAISC (links) page:

    Ideally you’ll have people 15 years from now who are still playing the game, new kids who are trying it for the first time, and that will be *cool*. Can it be done with an Irish Language Video Game? Maybe. Hey, people still play Space Invaders. World of Goo was made by two dudes conding on their laptops at Starbucks (at least part of the time). And we can see that people still do this:

    Caveats. There are at least two big ones:

    1) Trying for 1% of an instruction budget from any government could be problematic because unless you’re careful, you risk a boring game that’s so politically correct and designed-by-committee that it’s no fun. The more people you have to ask for official support, the tougher it becomes to produce something that includes any controversial subject matter. That’s hard, and at that point, it would have to be something indie and released into the world by people who only care about making a game that kids will want to play without worrying whether 10 organizations and the politicians approve of the thing. This brings us to problem #2:

    2: If you make a video game that’s totally open and moddable you run the risk of having someone hijack the game and turn it into something you don’t want to see. An Irish Language Only game that has been thoroughly debauched by the Forces of Evil. Then you lose the 1% Instructional Budget and the official buy-in of family-friendly organizations, and the game goes down the tubes.

    If all else fails, how about convincing an established game developer to recast an existing hit game in Irish? That’s pretty far out but maybe worth a try?

    Last but not least: an update of a classic game of skill?

    Good Luck!

  3. My wife and I visited Ireland in 2016. She’s full Irish and has family in the far coastal reaches of County Galway. We got to meet one of her cousins, who said that another cousin would want us to come out and see her too. So cousin 1 called cousin 2, and the entire conversation was in Irish. It was beautiful. We asked, and she said that “this far out we all speak both languages, often at the same time, slipping back and forth between them.”

  4. As part of its annual developer program fee, Apple requires everyone to rewrite their apps every October using a new version of Swift based on a new batch of meaningless words. Just make Apple base its annual Swift redesign on a different obscure spoken language every year.

  5. There is a market need for alternative languages – see Klingon from StarTrek and Elfish from LOTR. Irish government can sponsor bunch of fantasy novels and TV shows where one of the sides speaks Irish, promote them globally and Irish will be spoken forever by small, but dedicated group of people worldwide.

  6. The man you want to talk to is Mel Gibson. He auteured two masterpieces of cinema in obscure languages, The Passion and Apocalyptico.

  7. As a native Klingon speaker, I find this idea offensive. I don’t know about a free game. The smarter thing would be to use the money to get them to stick in a major publisher’s game as a weird little game mechanic. (Lore, puzzles, etc.) It probably wouldn’t even cost much if you could find the right person in the industry.

  8. you can’t teach elementary school in ireland without passing a fairly tough irish language exam. that’s for teaching in schools where the language of instruction is english (outside of irish lessons)!

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