Paper: Serious Games for Language Learning

Serious Games for Language Learning: How Much Game, How Much AI?
W.Lewis Johnson, Hannes Vilhjalmsson, Stacy Marsella [2005]

The serious game approach to learning is that games promote learner states that are conductive to learning and game AI can help considerably when implementing the design of a serious game, but care must be taken to not compromise game design principles, in order to maximize the learning experience.

The authors of this paper were designing and implementing a Tactical Language Training System in the form of a serious game that helps people learn foreign language and culture. They analyze six main areas which are:

  1. Gameplay
  2. Feedback
  3. Affordances
  4. Challenge
  5. Fish tanks and sandboxes
  6. Story and character identification
  7. Fun and learning orientation

AI facilitated gameplay in their game by promoting rapid interaction with nonplayer characters and the fault-tolerant speech recognition system provided players with an easy and adjustable learning experience. Also, they took care to not interrupt gameplay with constant corrections from an intelligent tutoring system.

They also discovered that a high amount of feedback eliminated the need for an intelligent coaching as the learners could quickly recognize when their actions are working or not. This is excellent because it replaces a complex intelligent coaching system with a simple visual feedback and achieves the same or better results.

Also, they managed to create a good sense of challenge with different levels of difficulty that could be changed without overly modifying the original gameplay (speech recognition becomes more strict, npc's react more to disrespecful attitudes, etc). They also provide fish tanks (stripped down versions of the game) and sandboxes (a version of the game with less likelihood for things to go wrong) to support the learners if they got stuck.

Finally, they realized that the part of their game that was mostly regarded as 'less fun' was the 'training' section which resembles a teacher-student situation, whereas the missions section was considered extremely fun. This created a good balance of learning and fun because players could switch from one to another, allowing them to use the software for long periods of time without feeling ennui.

Johnson, W., Vilhjalmsson, H., & Marsella, S. (2005). Serious Games for Language Learning: How Much Game, How Much AI?

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