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'.
Comments on Dreaming of An Educational MMO:
Don't forget about the Shakespeare MMO:
Posted Jan 24, 2007 2:20:37 PM | link
Hey, thats super. Maybe WoW can release a 30 dollar patch to teach new languages to the Alliance players so everyone can get along and it can finally become "World of Speechcraft!"
Posted Jan 24, 2007 2:35:39 PM | link
I've had this "edutainment in an MMO" idea before, but it started when my children got excited about Disney's ToonTown. It got my 3-yr old to learn his way around the computer (combining both keyboard and mouse actions, which is not the easiest combination to push at younger kids new to PC's), and to have fun in a 3D environment. He enjoyed playing all the jellybean-collecting games, and throwing pies and anvils at Cogs. But, after the initial PC and environment discovery, that was it. He couldn't quest 'on his own', since that requires reading. The games he could play got boring after a little while. Soon the Cog bashing got tired as well. He's moved on to other games more geared at his age level (and targeted as educational as well.)
So, what struck me as odd is that here we have a game made by, of all people, Disney. Disney has a huge repository of PC edutainment collecting dust on countless shelves. How hard would it be (relative to other options) to tap into some of that corporate knowledge and implement an 'edutainment' land or feature with games that teach alphabet, phonics, counting, spatial relationships, patterns, etc., etc., and provide an in game reward to the character (even if it had zero 'game balance effect"). All of a sudden, there would be value in maintaining your ToonTown account membership for your kid's developmental benefit. Instead, my child loads up an offline Whinnie the Pooh game to learn and practice stuff with letters, colors, matching, etc.
Seems like an ignored opportunity for an untapped market segment. ToonTown is already set up in a 'protective of youngsters' fashion. Little worry about a deviant player griefing the kiddie edutainment area.
Oh well, instead the dev's gave us mindless grinding via gardening. That'll get the subscribers in droves.
Posted Jan 24, 2007 3:56:14 PM | link
I'll pay a monthly fee to play a game that teaches me Chinese.
This sort of idea - an educational MMO that rewarded players for passing on expertise (like how to solve puzzles) was talked about at the GDC (last year? two years ago?) during the online social spaces tutorial day thing (yes, I need to play Brain Training and work on my memory). I've been looking forward to something like this, if it's done well.
Posted Jan 25, 2007 9:25:28 AM | link
Oh yes, I did forget! The Shakespeare MMO sounds fantastic, as well!
And btw, I just discovered that the latest NMC Horizon report has separate sections on the potential of virtual worlds and MMOGs for education, suggesting platform solutions like WorldForge and Multiverse will allow these options to proliferate. They cite several areas for potential educational MMO development, including the study of foreign language and culture (Shakespearean English counts here, too, right?), leadership and management skills, and 'practicing strategy and applying knowledge competitively' (i.e. how can a raid be made to resemble real life?).
Posted Jan 25, 2007 11:03:11 AM | link
Very cool about the educational MMOs.
Might want to to take a look at the Tactical Iraqi game that Dr. Lewis Johnson, USC, CARTE, developed for US soldiers in the Gulf. It runs on the Unreal Tournament engine and is very effective. Thought it might provide some context as to how Chengo Chinese might function and also indicate that the US Gov / Military will surely get into the Edu MMO space very soon.
Also, I've a sneaking suspicion that SL will catalyze quite a few highly effective Edu MMOs over the next year to 2 years. There is, after all, a lot of money to be made, and a lot of info to be disseminated.
Posted Jan 25, 2007 12:16:29 PM | link
JiK has it right, there is nothing a child can learn via a computer that can't be learned from a book, except for how to turn it on and off and how to use a keyboard and mouse.
Sure, you can buy a program that teaching junior how to count jellybeans, or you can buy a bag at the corner store and count them on the kitchen table. BONUS ROUND - with real jellybeans you get to eat them afterwards.
Why buy a flight simulator program for your 12 year old when some sticks, twine, and glue could provide a real flying machine?
Here's my thought - keep the kids off the computer until high school. Then teach them how to write code and write their own adventure.
Posted Jan 25, 2007 3:26:17 PM | link
Imho this is the tip of a large and inevitable iceberg.
While in certain respects I have sympathy for dave's point that we should "keep the kids off the computer until high school" or at the very least to ensure that they spend a whole lot of time engaged in the original virtual world (see the previous post), it simply isn't the direction that things are generally headed. After all, that would require more parents actually spending time with their kids, an activity which I understand is on the decline.
The big question I'm pondering as we approach implementation of a broader range of virtual learning environments is the question of access. If we assume for a minute that these tools will in fact be powerful learning mechanisms that can confer skills like fluency in a second language, I believe its incumbent upon us to ask who will get to use them and what benefits will that use confer?
Hence for the second time, I find myself mentioning Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age (currently in development for a mini-series on SciFi), because it raises the issue of learning technology and social stratification in a pretty profound way.
Posted Jan 25, 2007 4:13:29 PM | link
Do they have a general release date yet?
Posted Jan 25, 2007 4:35:36 PM | link
Doesn't look like it. What information I found was here on SciFi Wire
Posted Jan 25, 2007 4:55:22 PM | link
Let me take this opportunity to highlight a recent PARC forum presentation by Tina Blaine, Carnegie-Mellon University, Entertainment Technology Center, titled: Got Game? Exploring the contexts of collaborative experience, social awareness, and gameplay.
There is a trend developing among the universities, particularly with grant and seed money available, for educational projects that leverage on MMO platforms.
Zon could be first public disclosed development in the area of Chinese culture and language development, there are a few undisclosed "developments".
So in the same way there are parallel developments of a Shakespearian MMO (Ted C is leading one of them), we'll hear more and more academic research and subsequent development projects.
Posted Jan 25, 2007 7:36:43 PM | link
Not to bring politics into this, but one must wonder what version of Chinese history they will be disseminating.. this is, after all, the country behind the "Great Firewall of China" (a direction the US seems to be going, but that's another topic for another time)
Posted Jan 25, 2007 8:05:22 PM | link
Posted Jan 26, 2007 12:35:29 PM | link
With ChipWits we are going to harness the fun of programming to generate content by creating a program-actors-with-simple-languages shareable sandbox. We'll make it easy for the geeky players attracted to ChipWits to extend or replace our IBOL language or any part of the system.
Both Mike Johnston and I "started" as teachers - him at the college level and me at the elementary level.
We've found (or been found by) 4 people so far who say that playing ChipWits as a kid turned them into coders (sorry!).
Even before launch old ChipWits users are already working on level editors. We are going to write an open source (of some flavor) ChipWits kernel as a community project and encourage players to port it to every platform.
We are doing this very much as a labor of love on the cheap.
Posted Jan 26, 2007 3:09:43 PM | link
Wired Magazine (April 2006):
The Mandarin Offensive
Inside Beijing's global campaign to make Chinese the number one language in the world.
Posted Jan 30, 2007 2:46:27 AM | link
I learn Mandarin in Beijing. It's been five months now that I'm learning this beautiful language. It's true that Chinese is hard but learning it won't be that hard if you have the right learning tools and resources. As far as I'm concerned, I use this useful Chinese English dictionary and when I'm stuck, I just post my questions to this Chinese learning forum. I also learn Chinese writing online. I hope these learning Chinese tools would help you learn Chinese quickly and smartly. Thank you ;-)
Posted Jan 31, 2007 7:31:18 PM | link
I am a doctoral student studying second/foreign language learning. I'm excited about the potentials of this game. I'll be doing a research study using this game, examining adult learners' experience with computer language games. If you are interested in participating, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. In exchange, as a native Mandarin speaker, I'll be happy to help you learn Chinese!
Posted Feb 8, 2007 3:08:21 PM | link