Code Invaders Cipher Force


In Cipher Force, players create “image codes” by picking from a large gallery of photos.

Wordplay Games consists of two games, Code Invaders and Cipher Force. The games were originally developed for the Nintendo DSi platform. They were designed for English language arts classes and primarily used vocabulary from the Academic Word List, a collection of words frequently used in academic texts. To make the games more readily and widely available, we recently created Web-based versions. The basic game design remains the same, but we added several significant features to the Web-based games.

To support science and social studies teachers seeking to incorporate literacy activities into their instruction, we added content-specific word sets. Based on what we learned from field tests of the original games, we also made revisions to our model of how the games can be implemented in the classroom. We believe that these changes represent significant improvements, and we are testing the new Web-based games in three schools during the month of May, 2012.

The two Wordplay Games are linked conceptually and share a common narrative. The first, Code Invaders, is an individual puzzle game in which students are introduced to multiple-meaning words they will have to be familiar with in order to fulfill their mission in the second game. Contained within an arcade-style digging game are puzzles that ask players to use context clues to understand and differentiate among three definitions of multiple-meaning words.

The second game, Cipher Force, is a collaborative game in which individual play is targeted towards a shared goal. Success depends on players’ ability to create codes that their teammates will be able to decipher. The game pushes students to think more explicitly about the different meanings words have when used in different settings. Students put together a set of three images—an “image code”—to communicate a word definition to the other players. They pick images from a gallery of photos, which they can alter by using arrows, x’s, and circles to highlight certain features.

The evocative nature of the photos encourages players to consider the meaning they are trying to communicate, rather than to search for literal representations of a particular word or definition. Players also can create their own images using a selection of predetermined shapes. Once players have completed the image code that they think best conveys their word and definition, they transmit it to their teammates, who attempt to decipher it. The guessing stage of the game can lead to rich conversations about word meaning.