Video Podcast: How to Hack a Language

A Linguist and a Gamer Tackle Heaven's Vault's Intricately Constructed Language (ft. Professor Mike Wingert)

Welcome, dear readers, to yet another fantastic Game & Word video podcast episode! That’s right, I’m giving you a video double-header! And continuing our theme of games as vehicles for exploring the past, I’ll be playing through the first hour of Heaven’s Vault with a bonafide linguistic scholar!

In case you haven’t played Heaven’s Vault yet, it’s a sci-fi archaeology game, and the core mechanic involves you deciphering an ancient language, built from the ground up for this game!

My guest, Dr. Michael Wingert, hosts The Mousion Podcast, and is a professor of Semitic languages and cultures—particularly, the ANCIENT varieties! No joke, Professor Wingert has studied more languages than even he can’t count, and teaches Akkadian, Hebrew, and Aramaic in its many dialects, including Old Aramaic and Neo-Aramaic (also known as Assyrian). So who better to examine and analyze a game about decrypting a cuneiform-esque constructed language than someone who’s dedicated his life’s work to studying these types of languages IRL?

Professor Wingert is a crazy smart guy, and I’m so thankful to him for coming on the podcast. I hope you have as much fun watching our analysis as we had creating it!

Now, before we proceed, I do want to get a couple of housekeeping items out of the way. First, since we only play through the first hour of this 15-to-20-hour game, and so much of the in-game lore is shaped by the player’s choices, I am NOT adding a spoiler warning to this video.

That said, if you’re one of those people who consider anything beyond a generic promotional screenshot a “spoiler,” be warned that ALL this video will be a spoiler to you. Also, if you’re that concerned about spoilers, just play the damn game already. Or log off the internet until you do—because even if I don’t spoil it, somebody else will. It’s only a matter of time.

Ok, moving on!

If this is your first time here, be sure to check out all my other gaming deep dives on gameandword.substack.com — subscribe for free to get a new issue every week!

And finally, I’d like to thank Game & Word’s founding members for making this video possible:

  • Le_Takas, from Luzern, Switzerland (Member since April 14, 2022)

  • Ela F., from San Diego, CA (Member since April 24, 2022)

  • Alexi F., from Chicago, IL (Member since May 13, 2022)

  • Elvira O., from Mexico City, Mexico (Member since May 18, 2022)

Ok, now that all that’s out of the way, let’s get started with Game & Word’s archaeo-linguistic analysis of Heaven’s Vault. Enjoy!

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Jay Rooney