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More wired than a Roman Internet café

One of the things I am considering doing as a freebie for Latin students (and a large number of Latin teachers who are closet gamers) is posting a chain of Latin-language quests in World of Warcraft, hosted on a private server. I figure, if the quests are given in Latin, this requires students to be able to not only read by also comprehend the language in order to go to the right places and perform the correct actions. Other language classes are already doing this to supplement traditional textbook learning, offering a practical application. What are your opinions on language learning-via-gaming. Is this something either you or your students would try?

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I would absolutely try this.. if I had a copy of World of Warcraft, that is! But you are right - if the quests are in Latin (and perhaps the in-world communication between players/students), and a player successfully performs the quest, then they will have demonstrated that they understand the Latin. This would be a fantastic application... There's all sorts of edu-speak for that, which (thankfully) escapes me at the moment ('embodied learning' maybe?).

I outlined a prototype of a text-adventure game along similar lines back at the Canadian Classical Association Conference at Memorial University last spring. Response there was tepid, to say the least, but I think that had more to do with the fact that I was slotted in the pedagogy session, which was poorly attended (there's a message there methinks...)

By the way, there is an online multi-player online role playing game called 'Roma Victor' which aspires to be a reasonably *authentic* rendition of the Roman world ca 180. I bought the key to play the game, but have yet to successfully get in-world (which may be something to do with my computer rather than the game *shrug*). Imagine taking your Intro to Roman Culture students into 2nd century London and setting them loose for a few hours... There's a great description of an ethnography class's first foray into Everquest - as hobbits - recounted in Ed Castranova's book Virtual Worlds (well worth the read!)
Great, Shawn. Thanks for the reply. I've played Roma Victor and was left wanting more, especially after having experienced the sterling gameplay of WoW. I did write the developers of Roma Victor, but they never got back in touch with me. I have also written to the Legal team at Blizzard Entertainment regarding licensing for quest-modding so we can move forward with these Latin-language quest chains. I'd love to do the entire game in Latin (like it exists in German and Chinese), but that's just the Classics geek in me. In WoW (as in Second Life), the game is now voice-enabled so that players with headsets can converse with one another. Typing in Latin in the heat of battle might be a bit much to ask, but perhaps it will happen.
I was just talking with my local computer shop owner, about system requirements etc for playing some of these games. To really get all the whiz-bang wonder out of them, a proper gaming system is required, and that starts to get pricey. The problem becomes - can we really require students to buy the proper equipment to get into these games?

I don't think we can even wait for Moore's Law to take care of things, either. By the time more powerful, cheaper computers are available, the games have been redesigned to take advantage of all of the top of the line processors, video cards, etc. Many of our students at RWU don't have overly fancy computers, or quality internet connections, for that matter. So maybe online, real-time games might be out of the question (and that would include Second Life too.)

But that doesn't mean we can't take advantage of the games' shelf at the local Walmart. Copies of Civilization IV get cheaper all the time ($40, last time I looked), and the system requirements necessary to play it stays stable. There is an incredibly active user community generating new content to play on the game too, which can be downloaded reasonably quickly. I was struck today by the discussion on one of the user-forums about 'The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire'. These individuals collected scholarly information together from a variety of sources, divvied up the tasks (map making, programming), and created their own modification to the game. They changed the rules of the game to reflect their understanding of how the Roman world worked!

It's a fantastic example of how game based learning can also work: not just in the playing of the game, but in the making of scenarios to play.
You're right -- these games to take a lot of horsepower, but even low-end boxes from your favorite Big Box store can provide enough power to run them. They might not look quite as spectacular without a high-end graphics card, but you can still be quite involved in streamlined gameplay. By providing space in virtual worlds or games within these massive on-line environments, I'm not suggesting we require students to play. For those students who wish to, they have these materials available to them. If a school has a computer lab, perhaps labtime can be booked on the machines for class use. One of these days, "language labs" will be synonymous with "computer labs" as students and teachers immerse themselves within a language via virtuality.
Have you tried Kaneva yet? It bills itself as a mashup between a myspace-type network and a social virtual world... It's busy crashing my computer at the moment, but there could be some possibilities there...

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