Soon the app was no longer just encouraging me to go on a journey of knowledge. He demanded daily fidelity. If I didn’t complete my required daily language lesson quickly, I would be bombarded with emails, push notifications, and threats that I would lose my hard-earned language learning streak. It would evolve into cartoon characters from the app, making you feel guilty to come back. If these are ignored, presumably the friendly cartoon owl would threaten to choke me while a hired moron is sent to appear at my door, tie me to the chair of A clockwork orange and forces me to look at some verbs.
I can no longer imagine myself wandering the streets of Cologne chatting with a shopkeeper. I don’t want to spend days sitting on the banks of the Spree casually leafing through a newspaper. All I want in this world is to knock fellow language app user KenG_63 off the top spot on the Obsidian League language leaderboard and fight my way up the language leaderboard of the Diamond League, to which I rightly belong. What happens when I conquer the Diamond League? Nothing. You just started again next week, such is the Sisyphean pointlessness of effort that now dominates my life.
Language learning is no longer the key to a new world. It’s a survival tactic for an addictive video game. I’m trapped by a cartoon owl who hates me. It plays on the shame I feel for not knowing my grandfather’s language. He uses the lights and sounds of a slot machine to make me come back for another shot. To my great shame, I always come back.
If a hypothetical stranger pulled out a card-based word association game and challenged me to prove my language skills, I would easily dominate the game well within the two-minute time limit and pick up the well-deserved 40 experience points. . . It’s my only hope. I can’t delete the app and leave. I have gone too far. To stop is to admit defeat, and if there’s one thing a German would never do, it’s surrender.