Indian kids will soon have a Super Mario-like character
of their own to guide through an array of digital puzzles
and game landscapes. But instead of a character who looks
like the mustached Italian plumber, made popular from appearances
in dozens of Nintendo offerings, a new video game created
by a Native-owned company will feature tribal characters speaking
a variety of Indian languages.
game, called RezWorld, is billed as the first fully immersive
3-D interactive video game that can help young Indians learn
to speak their own languages via a unique speech recognition
all about teaching Native language in a context that really
engages our young people, said Don Thornton, the Cherokee
owner of the California-based Thornton Media, which has led
the way in creating the games prototype.
of the main reasons weve made RezWorld is because we
see the connection between the survival of tribal languages
and the protection of tribal sovereignty.
like the popular mainstream Sims virtual-world computer games,
the high-tech product allows players to interact with intelligent
virtual humans that recognize players gestures
and social behavior as they navigate their own Indian-looking
characters through the game.
beyond the Sims-like experience, players must also interact
with virtual characters by talking into a microphone so that
the characters can respond and provide cultural tidbits to
help human players proceed through levels of the game
all in a Native tongue. The words the characters speak can
also be displayed on the screen in English as an aid to players.
speech recognition technology used in RezWorld was developed
by Alelo Inc., a company that has worked for years with the
U.S. military to help American soldiers learn Arabic languages.
Alelos Tactical Iraqi Language & Culture Training
System won top recognition at the 2007 Serious Games
Showcase & Challenge competition.
a proven methodology of teaching language learning
its not an experimental methodology, Thornton
said. He added that the Alelo technology has been tested on
more than 25,000 users, many of whom are in the military.
is pre-programmed with introductory lesson plans that teach
players basic pronunciations grammar and sentence structure.
The lessons are meant to help players improve their language
proficiency so they can complete increasingly rigorous challenges
as the game progresses.
elementary challenge in the game involves verbally asking
virtual characters how to find a family member who has knowledge
about how to get to the next level of the game. If a player
just comes up to one of the virtual characters and rudely
asks a question in a non-culturally appropriate manner, the
character might respond with a big shrug, or give a gentle
really a way to teach cultural protocol, said Thornton,
who added that his favorite part of the development process
so far has been learning to interact with a trickster-like
is a little bit of a wise guy, so you always have to watch
yourself with him, Thornton said with a laugh.
third-party academic scientists and researchers have found
that RezWorld promotes positive learning results. Plus, many
users rated the game as more effective than traditional computer
said he believes the main reason behind the effective results
centers on his companys push for the game to actually
be fun to play. Several young people who have tested the game
said they especially enjoyed its Indian humor elements, such
as inclusion of a car driven by the main character, which
tends to break down.
another section of the game, if the player forgets to thank
a certain character for his advice, the character responds
by saying, Hey, who do you work for anyway, the feds?
tried really hard to make it funny and interesting,
Thornton said. No one wants to feel like playing a game
is a chore.
said that the game is intended to help players of any age
become proficient on a novice level at speaking in their own
Indian languages. The game is meant to be played on computers
equipped with a CD-ROM drive.
date, only one level of the 12-level game has been produced
in a pilot form, using Thorntons Cherokee language for
the testing phase.
first level is being used as a marketing device to help tribes
understand how the speech recognition and game play components
of the technology works.
Media is now at the point of trying to partner with a first
tribe to provide funds to develop a complete 12-level game.
If a tribe signs on, a finished game would likely be ready
within eight months. The price tag for development of the
complete game would be approximately $1 million. The company
has already invested more than six figures into the development
of the game thus far.
said its important for interested tribes to know that
the game is completely customizable in terms of language,
culture and landscapes. The faces of the virtual members can
even be modified to look like individual tribal members. And
the locations portrayed in the game can be modified to look
like real tribal buildings or landmarks.
the creation of the first complete version of RezWorld, Thornton
Media plans to turn that prototype into a standardized game,
which could be easily customizable with different languages
and digitized landscapes.
see this as a natural next progression in language learning,
Thornton said. And, yes, it costs a lot to get started,
but we think its worth every penny.
more information, visit http://www.ndnlanguage.com.