Game Aims to Teach Native American Languages

RezWorldA new interactive experience is in the works for Native Americans looking to improve their knowledge of their mother-tongue. A new game titled RezWorld, said to be the first fully immersive 3-D interactive video game in its genre, will help young Natives learn to speak their own language through an advanced speech recognition technology.

Created by California-based Thornton Media, the computer game prototype features tribal characters in day to day situations with which players will interact. These “intelligent virtual humans” will notably recognize players’ gestures and behaviour as they take their character through the game, teaching more than language but also cultural traditions and proper social graces. Read More...

“We’re all about teaching Native language in a context that really engages our young people,” said Don Thornton, the Cherokee owner of Thornton Media, in a news report. “One of the main reasons we’ve made RezWorld is because we see the connection between the survival of tribal languages and the protection of tribal sovereignty.”

Powering RezWorld is the technology behind Alelo's Tactical Iraqi Language & Culture Training System, which received the Best Serious Game award at the Serious Games Showcase & Challenge in 2007. Alelo has worked for years with the U.S. military to help American soldiers learn Arabic languages.

“It’s a proven methodology of teaching language learning – it’s not an experimental methodology,” Thornton said.

In fact, Alelo’s website states that over 20,000 US servicemen and members of the Australian Defence Force have successfully learned and transferred to the real world the skills they acquired through their training programs.

RezWorld fared well in testing, with most participants saying they especially enjoyed its Native humour references. For example, the car driven by the main character tends to break down, while in another section of the game, if the player forgets to thank a certain character for his advice, the character will respond, “Hey, who do you work for anyway, the feds?”

“We tried really hard to make it funny and interesting,” Thornton said. “No one wants to feel like playing a game is a chore.”

Thornton Media is currently seeking to partner with a first tribe, which would provide the funds to develop a complete 12-level game. Following this partnership, a finished game would likely be ready within eight months. The price tag for development of the complete game would be approximately $1 million, with the company having already invested over $100,000 in its development.
“We see this as a natural next progression in language learning,” Thornton said. “And, yes, it costs a lot to get started, but we think it’s worth every penny.”

The game will be completely customizable in regards to the language, culture and landscapes depicted. The faces of the virtual members can even be designed to look like individual tribal members, for an even more immersive experience.