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3D Virtualization: Learning German from a Video Game

Presentation at Elon Student Undergraduate Research Forum, Spring 2009

John G. Garratt, Ben Marsh, Tess E. Stamper, Amanda L. Padgett, Brett Shelton, Daniel R. Cresse,
Kyle Schutt & Natalie Lampert (Dr. David Neville, Dr. LM Wood, and Dr. Shannon Duvall)

This is a multidisciplinary project to develop a computer game to facilitate German language
learning and cultural competency before a student would study abroad in German-speaking countries. This
game exposes the student to cultural differences, situations, and specific tasks in a virtual environment to
lessen the strain of “culture shock.” The project itself is situated within the relatively new field of digital
game-based learning. Prior, most language games had a flimsy story and rudimentary game theory behind
them. The player knows that the “game” is to learn and fun is secondary. One of the guiding principles of
the creation of our game was to create a game with fun, enjoyable objectives that the player would be
entertained. To successfully create an authentic German language learning game, students from the
Computer Sciences, Art, and Foreign Language departments came together to create a virtual environment
and a story that is intriguing. A strong effort was made to craft a world replete with an authentic 3D
German train station, spoken German dialogue by native speakers, advanced 3D textures, a story grounded
in German culture, and a complex code written by student programmers to create a cohesive world that
would mimic a commercial game. Examples of goals in the game are to withdraw money from an ATM,
interview people about a recent train robbery, befriend a Turkish newspaper stand owner for information,
and trick a character into being interrogated. These goals are couched within the storyline as to not take the
player out of the virtual environment. The learning is incorporated into the story which is the crucial
difference between our project and previous learning games. By the completion of the project, not only
will we have a learning tool, but one that will help students prepare for studying abroad and learning to
maneuver in cultural situations. Assessing the learning experience would take place after the player
completes the stage, and within the virtual interface. One example requires the students to write an email
in German back to his “editor” (the German teacher) about what they learned about the train robbery which
would show advanced listening and reading comprehension.