I found an article today about a MMO to teach Chengo Chinese. I guess this has been in the works for a while, but for some reason it didn’t bubble to the surface until recently. What’s really nice is that you can access a small (20-page) business case and high level design document from the project initiators.
I read through the document. It’s not bad, but I think it’s fairly obvious that 0 game developers had any input at the time of the writing, and it sounds as if the author(s) don’t even play games themselves. Troubling. Other things that stood out:
- They claim that the MMO will have 3,000 hours of content, broken down into 1000 activities @ 3 hours each. Does that mean I need to spend AT LEAST 3 hours in the environment to start and complete a single activity? Sheesh, and I thought Warcraft was bad…
- I like the progression path, where you go from village, to town, to city, to cosmopolitan area. But is this linear? What if I’d rather go from one village to another village? Or backtrack from a town to a village I’ve never visited yet?
- How about the difficulty? I’ve posted on dynamic difficulty systems before, which would fit perfectly into a game such as this. I just have this awful image in my head of trying to re-learn french in a world like this from my old french teacher. EVERYTHING had to be spoken in french for 45 minutes in her class. I can just see logging in, and being forced to use chinese, when I’m not comfortable yet, and logging out in frustration. The early part of the game (the villages) need to be the best part of the entire experience for it be successful and compel users to proceed to the next stage.
- The document refers to past attempts at leveraging learning games being only partially successful. The author notes, referring to past attempts at game-based learning for language:
It fails to permeate the gaming concept throughout the program, and uses games more as external motivation rather than capitilizing on the internal motivation naturally conveyed via a coherent game-base learning environment
So how does a MMO wrapper solve this problem? I don’t think it does. Cramming educational content into a game, or forcing a game wrapper around content, usually doesn’t work. It takes a great deal of time, effort, and balance to bring these two things together into a cohesive, instructionally sound learning experience.
Finally, the timeline.
The timetable for the development of Chengo Chinese is as follows:
â€¢ June, 2006 â€“ August, 2006 Design the game and curriculum framework
â€¢ August, 2006 â€“ November, 2006 Establish the alpha version of the system
â€¢ November, 2006 â€“ January, 2007 Beta-test the system
â€¢ January, 2007 â€“ June, 2007 Pilot and promote the system
â€¢ June, 2007 Refine and improve the system; formal introduction of the system
In 2 years, it is expected that the users for the proposed Chinese learning environment would exceed 100,000 users.
Are you serious? I mean, really? This is the part of the document when I was sure NO game developers or designers had input in the project, at least in writing the document.