Making learning fun is one hell of a challenge to take on, especially when you’re trying to teach something as stuffy and snooty as proper English grammar. Indonesia-based studios Algorocks and Simpleton attempt this feat with their latest release, Grammarian Ltd, a simulation game that launched last April 2022.
The key feature of this game is its entertaining spin on grammar checking, with over 80 lessons to teach (and quiz) the player on. However, what truly stands out for me is its presentation. With vibrant art, clean UI, and humorous writing, it finds itself in the sweet spot of edutainment made for adults. Under the hood, however, it feels conflicted regarding gameplay and experience.
The opening sets the scene: we’re plunged into a grammar-obsessed dystopia in the not-too-distant future, and your character is one of the disadvantaged citizens who’ve made the mistake of putting grammar at the bottom of their priorities. Despite being a presumably intelligent theoretical mathematician, they receive 99,000 rejection letters for several odd jobs and menial work thanks to their low grammar rating score.
In some strange twist of fate, you end up with the lucrative position of grammar validator in one of the largest grammar validation agencies, and you have no choice but to fake it til you make it because, well, everyone lies on their resumes, after all! And anyway, perfect grammar is totally something you can learn on the job… right?
This sets the game’s loop in motion. Every day, you review documents for the agency, à la Papers, Please gameplay, guided by a brief that tells you the rules of whatever grammar lesson you’re working on today, then go home with a performance-based paycheck so you can deck out your apartment with upgrades.
The grammar gameplay is designed in an interesting way. At your desk, you are given around 3 to 5 documents, each with its own objective to test your comprehension. This can be anything from merely identifying particular words to correcting usage. Each attempt costs stamina and the outcome will affect your mood, so resource management mechanics come into play. I appreciate the writing in the documents, as it not only gives us a glimpse into the outlandish world that Algorocks and Simpleton have created but also provides entertainment in the bleak repetition of simulated labor.
However, this is where I encounter most of my reservations about the game. Grammarian Ltd has not quite found the perfect balance of teaching and fun in its feedback and rewards system. Thus, it is more fit to be a supplementary educational tool in an overarching program rather than a learning game on its own, as I feel it requires the support of someone who can properly explain specific lessons to its users.
I believe the problem lies in the lack of gamified learning elements. For example, the brief, while comprehensive, is ultimately a long boring dump of words and rules. It doesn’t foster a very encouraging learning environment and does not differ from the experience of self-studying textbooks. I believe there is a more visually-appealing way to communicate these already-difficult lessons. I also found it unnecessarily stressful to have to read the entire thing and complete my documents during my shift, resulting in some player fatigue as the tasks require so much reading and thinking. As someone diagnosed with ADHD, simple activities like that can feel like moving mountains at times, so at this point of the game, I felt extremely overwhelmed. (And that end-of-day reminder will invasively remind you for 60 seconds that your shift is almost over, frustrating me even more.) I see an opportunity here to create more accessible designs for those who have difficulty reading, and the devs can explore text-to-speech, dyslexic-friendly fonts, and slower game modes.
A glaring issue I also have is the grammatical errors I found in some of the exercises and the fact that many of the words repeat in the same document, making some levels too easy. While I do understand that the devs may not be grammatical wizards, I did feel like the game lost credibility because of this. This poses a major flaw, as the game may ultimately end up teaching incorrect grammar to beginners. As mentioned earlier, the original, engaging stories they’ve created for the players to read differentiate the game from the learning experience of formal education, but perhaps a round of proofreading might be in order.
Aside from that, the review screen at the end of the day does not provide a lot of helpful information. It merely tells you what you got wrong and what the right answer is. As an independent adult who don’t need no tutor, I appreciate it when a game does not hold my hand in any capacity. However, some linguistic concepts are hard to grasp, especially for someone whose brain works in another language’s framework. English, after all, is three languages wearing a trench coat pretending to be one — and Grammarian Ltd fails to recognize the extra support that students need in making sense of this insane language. I hoped to access a feature that lets me understand my errors, perhaps some sort of forum where users can discuss, and moderators may explain, or another round of reviewing the brief that will point out specifically why I was wrong. Thankfully, its charming visuals and wonderful ambient music save it from being an overwhelming learning experience.
One thing I do commend about the game’s loop is that every now and then, a one-on-one promotion battle ensues between you and a fellow co-worker. An extension of this is the global leaderboard, where you’re ranked based on how well you’re doing in relation to other players, reminiscent of elementary quiz bees. Some gamers, at their core, enjoy competition, and this ignites that fire for that demographic. It also creates a pretty simple design that caters to more advanced players. The devs definitely knew what they were doing here, and I believe it works. (Disclaimer: I’m an Aries cusp, and this greatly appeases me. Competitive is my middle name.)
Grammarian Ltd claims to be a simulation game, and it succeeds in being an adulting simulator. There’s work, of course, but what really makes it hit close to home is its resource management mechanics. The game gives you three resources: your stamina, mood, and money. As illustrated earlier, each time you try to correct a document, you use up stamina and mood, which seems like a pretty standard design for the loop the game has created. The notable part about it, though, is the many ways you can refill and empty these resources when you get home at the end of the day.
You can spend your money on furniture and items that will help you at work (like hints, time freezes, or mood-boosters), and even move into a swankier apartment if you can afford it. You can even decide your mode of transportation at the beginning of each day, including taking a helicopter to work.
I absolutely love any game that lets me customize with cosmetic upgrades, so Grammarian Ltd gets plus points for that. Although, I am on the fence about how well it can motivate players to keep going, especially considering that the levels only get more challenging from then on.
I wish there were mini-games in the apartment related to the appliances and objects I purchase with my hard-earned cash, just so I can truly enjoy the experience of emptying out my wallet. I think of the most ridiculous expense I’ve bought online, and the one that comes to mind is my Divoom speaker that lights up with a frolicking Bulbasaur every time it turns on. And man, the amount of serotonin I get from those five seconds is enough to get me through the drawl of day-to-day office labor. I hoped to have a semblance of this reality in the game.
Though, it is definitely a funny nod to the rampant consumerism that plagues many young adults in this era of fast-paced shopping apps. It would also not be too far off to believe that this will continue in the year 2099. These details enhance the immersion of this game.
But, there is an opportunity here to go even further, completely left field with the writing and mechanics. I was left wanting more, and I missed the intelligent humor that the opening scene provided. Amplifying the rewards given to players would actually strengthen the game’s core loop, as the apartment would be the carrot to the stick during the work day.
Grammarian Ltd is a unique game that has a lot of potential to bridge the knowledge gap in learning the intricacies of grammar. It’s a project that is definitely worth supporting, especially with how polished the game already is. Though, it still has a lot of room for improvement before becoming a quintessential educational game. It’s exciting to see this kind of initiative come from Southeast Asian devs since they will be able to cater to the nuances of language education specific to the diverse peoples of our region.