Most video games have a persuasive and engaging backstory that pushes the game narrative in a certain direction and gives the players a sense of what needs to be done in the game world. The idea that I think would perhaps be most feasible for a language-learning game is something that students see themselves potentially doing in the near future, such as spending a summer abroad to improve their German at a language institute and working a part-time job. The job could be at a grocery store managed by a Turkish person living in Germany, which would allow for running investigations of Turkish-German relations and minorities living in Germany. The idea of the language institute could be worked into the game in the form of the homework that students would need to do for their real-world class. This idea could be leveraged to mask the disruption of flow that a player would experience when bouncing back and forth between the game world and the real world. As the player moves forward in the game, the story could be developed to reveal a deeper mystery that needs examining, or a personal drama (such as unrequited love) that needs to be resolved.
Upon starting a video game, players generally have to undergo a brief training experience so that they become familiar with the game controls, moving in a simulated 3D space, and orientation in the game world. Players could be inserted into the information/tourist office of the town where they are supposedly staying. In the office they would speak to the person working there, find out basic information about the town, pick up informational brochures, and find out where they will be working. The person working in the information office could be a persistent game resource that a player could use when stuck with a problem that cannot be solved. The use of the information office in this manner also synchronizes nicely with the real-world function of the information office.
Ideally, the game levels would correspond with chapters in the accompanying book. I think it would be best to design book around the activity systems of the game and not simply try to overlay the game on an existing textbook. As in the current version of Deutsch Na Klar, the first chapter and introduction deal with personal identity, characteristics, and addresses. The learning objectives of the game could possibly be built around these topics:
- After becoming familiar with the city at the information office, the player reports to his boss at work. He informs the player that s/he must register at the city immigration office, where the player fills out a form requiring personal identity, characteristic, and address to be given. The use of the immigration office in this manner also synchronizes nicely with the real-world function of the immigration office and the residency permit. Upon returning to work, the boss informs the player that s/he needs to do homework for the language institute.
- Upon rejoining the game, the player reports to work. The boss has a few deliveries, which the player has make using information provided. The player will have to navigate 3D space using provided visual cues (e.g., street signs) and a cultural interface (e.g., ringing the doorbell of an apartment house and listening to the instruction given over the speaker) to successfully deliver the groceries. After making the deliveries, the boss will remind the player to do the homework for the language institute.
- Upon rejoining the game again, the boss will have a few more deliveries. This time, the player will find a wallet or identity card, which will provide information for the player to return the lost item to its owner. The player may have to perform some mini-quest (similar to throwing the bottles away in the game prototype I have currently developed) to demonstrate integrity. Interaction with the owner will then reveal something of the underlying drama or deeper mystery that will move the player forward into the next game level.
Anyway, just a brief sketch of something I have been working through in my mind at the moment. Basically, I'm trying to figure out a way to combine language instruction with a simulated 3D sociocultural environment that is based on the real world in a manner that would be fun for the player and also challenging. Back to bed now...and hopefully some sleep.