Finally, via Joystiq, a productive use of time for those of us who worry that repeatedly whacking monsters is not actually contributing to improvements in our zen… Or maybe it is, but soon it will be possible to learn Chinese in Zon – The New Chengo Chinese MMO, and we'll be able to both get zen and spout koans right and left in their intended language! And maybe even be able to play someday with our millions of Chinese fellow WoW fiends, or at least lambast the gold farmers appropriately...
The new MMO even includes a 20-page design document complete with learning objectives! Here's an excerpt:
The new Chengo Chinese will be a massive multi-player online game, consisting of four virtual worlds: “villages”, “towns”, “cities” and “cosmopolitans”. The four virtual worlds will progress with increasing complexity, advancing from ancient times to modern times and from countryside to cities. Those different virtual worlds represent a variety of cultures and living styles, and teach different cultural contents and language in correspondence with learners’ language proficiency and cultural knowledge. Learners will start with “villages” and advance into “towns” after they grasp a certain level of Chinese language and cultural knowledge and reach a certain point.
The game will be an open platform. Players could exchange and trade their points, and could accumulate points with knowledge acquired and social services provided to others. For instance, players can gain points through helping others solve problems.
The players can choose five career paths in this game, which include: scholar, businessman, kongfu master, officer and historian or archeologist. Players encounter different experiences based on their individual career choice. Furthermore, players with different career goals co-exist in the virtual worlds and interact with each other. In addition, the game also contains many artificial intelligence ‘robots” (i-bots) that can interact with the players.
The new Chengo Chinese will provide at least 1000 learning activities, each activity presenting learners with Chinese culture-, society-, geography-, and history-based learning opportunities. Each activity will take at least three hours, and thus the new Chengo Chinese will provide learners with 3000-hour Chinese language and culture learning contents.
Now I, like a few others, have adopted the approach that rather than put education in our MMOs, we should look at the learning that can be found in the ones we already have. I've also tended to think that we should spend more time studying learning cultures before jumping in too excitedly into the educational MMO space. But as Henry Jenkins reminds us, there is momentum to be found in the serious games movement, and the associated money might dry up if we don't 'get serious about serious games'.