Learning to QWOP

Evolution of QWOP

Studying a language is a great way for a language teacher to experience a her students’ struggles and challenges. But, as language teachers know, this is not always the easiest thing to do. Is there a simpler way for a teacher to remind herself what it feels like to struggle as a beginner? For me, QWOP brought back all of these feelings and then some.

QWOP is a game that simulates a sprinter running down a 100 meter track. Players use the Q and W keys to control the sprinter’s thighs and O and P to control the sprinter’s calves. Although running sounds like a simple task, the game is infamously, and perhaps intentionally, difficult. In fact, as a simulation of learning to walk for the first time, QWOP is quite effective.

The first time I played QWOP, I fell on my face. Several times. In fact, I often ended up as far behind the starting line as I did beyond it. To be honest, I couldn’t figure out this game without searching Google for some strategy help. Even after reading up on the basics, I still struggled to run more than a dozen meters.

As frustrating as this process was, it was instructive. Knowing where I wanted to go but being unable to get there reminded me of learning my second language — knowing what I wanted to say but not having the vocabulary or grammar to express it. Even though the task may seem simple, whether putting one foot in front of the other or asking for directions to the restroom, it may seem an insurmountable obstacle without the necessary knowledge and preparation.

If you want to walk a meter in these shoes, I would recommend QWOP to you. You can play for free in your browser. There is also an iOS app available, with slightly different, but equally frustrating controls, if a flash-based game is not an option. Your students might also offer interesting comparisons between learning to QWOP and learning a language.

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