Learning a Language - a Serious Game
This semester we will graduate our first Master’s class at the Cologne Game Lab. All students will introduce their projects in this blog starting today with Linda Kruse.
Linda Kruse graduated from ifs international film school Cologne with a Bachelor of Arts in Creative Producing and has been working as producer, web designer and conceptor. Her Master project
SQUIRREL&BÄR has been nominated for the prestigious Deutscher Computerspielpreis 2012.
My Master project is an adventurous serious game for children age three to six years. Its focus is on learning an additional language through the use of touchscreen devices like smart phones and tablet PCs (iOS, Android).
So I am designing a Serious Game. What does that mean?
Serious Games are supposed to solve a problem. Though their main purpose is to train or to teach, they also aim to be entertaining. Unlike other digital games, Serious Games are not classified by gameplay or genre. They are instead categorized by their purpose. Serious Games include, among others, educational, political, and news games. The category of serious games for training is also known as “game-learning”. That’s what I am concentrating on.
Learning an Additional Language
Research shows that it is important to be exposed to a second or third language early on in life. This leads not only to more effortless learning of new languages, but also improves proficiency in the first language. My game tries to accomplish just that.
The Story of the Game
SQUIRREL&BÄR are devastated: Their beloved forest is in danger; the bees are sick. The only cure is a magic plant, which grows in the mountains. Unfortunately an evil lynx is standing guard over the plant. And, to make matters worse, the inhabitants of the mountains speak a foreign language that the main characters (and the players) don’t understand.
That’s where the journey of SQUIRREL&BÄR begins. The players guide the main characters through five different worlds. With the help of friendly animals players learn the foreign language that the inhabitants of the mountains speak so that the bees can eventually be healed.
Players are immersed in the world of SQUIRREL&BÄR. Each part of the journey features a different animal as companion to our main characters. Social behavior is a very important aspect of the gameplay; speaking and living along with the characters is a core element. Only by working together as a team the players of SQUIRREL&BÄR can master the quests and save the bees and the forest.
Players acquire the most important sentences and vocabulary of the new language as the journey progresses. Learning is so easy, that it feels like a side effect of the game. New vocabulary is also discovered through mini-games. Learning is fun with SQUIRREL&BÄR.
As it is designed specifically for use with touchscreen devices, children can access the game with ease and start playing without adult instructions.
The adventure is structured in chapters, which can be paused anytime. Every chapter can be accessed directly and played again. The game also features a vocabulary book to study newly learnt words and phrases. Moreover the player collects animal cards telling the players more about the animals that have already appeared in the game.
Two difficulty levels serve to entertain older and younger children while also creating a different experience when playing the game a second time. New elements and more vocabulary are introduced when selecting a higher difficulty level. Extensive help and fallback functions are available and prevent frustration.
Last but not least, the dialogue of the animals can be subtitled if an older child is playing the game or if a parent wants to read along.
SQUIRREL&BÄR will differ from other currently available games on the market by having an extensive narrative part, and thus also more playtime. The game allows children to learn without pressure. It leaves room for creativity and offers a great experience for exploring new languages. The cute main characters make discovering the language and the nature of the forest as well as beating the game a fun experience.
The natural user interface (NUI) of touch devices allows to target very young players providing them with easy, fun and immersive gameplay.
SQUIRREL&BÄR is currently in development for iOS and Android, with the focus being tablet devices. It will be produced in Cologne and is planned to be released by the end of 2012.
GUNDOLF S. FREYERMUTH
Gundolf S. Freyermuth is a founding director of the Cologne Game Lab and Professor of Comparative Media Studies at the ifs international film school, Cologne. His teaching and research concentrates on digital audiovisuality, cross- and transmediality, network culture and games.