New Game in ARIS?

Operator-Desperate3 Info-UnderTable Demo

A magnitude 9.0 earthquake has hit the entire state. Several structures within the University are severely damaged and without power. Please remain calm and do the following:

  • If you are in a building, evacuate using only stairs and fire escapes, not the elevator. Once you are safely outisde, ensure all persons are accounted for. Do not attempt to go back inside the building until it is deemed safe by emergency authorities.
  • Stay away from windows and unsecured objects.
  • Take keys, wallets, purses, and emergency supplies with you as you exit, since you will not be able to reenter the building.
  • Move to an open area away from –

The news cuts out. Looks like that’s all the information you’re getting for now. You do not know what to do, but you want to help any way you can. Suddenly, your phone starts to ring. Immediately, you are worried that someone you know may have been affected by the earthquake.


Do you answer it?


Stay tuned for more information on the new iteration of Ecopod we have been working on over at CASLS. For those going to the ARIS Summit this year, you will get a sneak peek of the game before it’s fall release. In addition, you will get some inside info on how we have been using ARIS to make engaging, immersive games for the language classroom. Can’t wait to see you there!


Co-Presence, Situatedness, and Mobile Game-Enhanced Learning

The great power of mobile smart devices is that they can connect us with people, ideas, and places with which we do not share the same physical space, and conversely, they allow us to share our selves, ideas and places with those remote others. Location dependent technology can connect us to the world around us, but we can also connect to things anywhere, at any time, from anywhere. In the wider scheme of things, however, sometimes the consequences of instant accessibility are not always positive. If, to gain freedom of time and space, we connect more through our networks than we do with things that are actually in our physical proximity, we may lose the benefits of immediate (meaning “un-mediated”) experience. Even as we gain knowledge, social intimacy, or pleasure when losing ourselves in a website, chat, or game, we may also be losing an awareness of co-inhabited place that can potentially ground and center us.

Artist Eric Pickersgill captures the potential consequences of being connected more to the remote than to the immediate in his photography series “Removed”—powerful images of what it really looks like, in his words, to feel “as connected to someone on the other side of the planet as to the person on the other side of the couch.” His images hint at the loss of co-presence. For those of us who were adults before the age of ubiquitous devices may remember, being co-present with other humans, objects, or places offers the potential for experiential and situated learning precisely because that space cannot be escaped so easily by connecting to somewhere else. Co-presence enhances situatedness—contextual involvement at cultural, historical, social, and cognitive levels—which is a key component of learning. Paradoxically, mobile device technology—the ability to be anywhere, anytime—can both diminish and enhance physical situatedness.

Well-designed mobile digital games have the potential to re-connect people to the immediate world around them and help establish situatedness. Insofar as the world around us is culturally and historically mediated by language, mobile games have real potential for enhancing situated second or foreign language learning (as evidenced by the many examples in this blog). Games like Mentira make use of mobile technology to involve Spanish learners in local cultural and historical contexts and help them make connections between the sometimes abstract content of the language classroom with the situatedness of the real world. Inspired by Mentira and other ARIS games, I was recently involved in a similar application to develop mobile games for educators of Indigenous American Indian languages—in this case, the Mojave language once spoken widely around the Colorado River in northwestern Arizona.

My colleagues and I were inspired by anthropological work by anthropologist Keith Basso, whose work “Wisdom Sits in Places” explains how some Indigenous languages and cultures in the southwestern US are highly interconnected with the physical landscape, so that the learning of everyday wisdom and knowledge is literally situated in the histories and mythologies of ancestral places. Though it was modest, our game ‘Analy Nyuwiich, developed with Mojave educators, sought to teach environmental and cultural knowledge about the mesquite tree, which has a central place in Mojave culture. The game was situated around an actual tree on the schoolgrounds where it would be played by high school age learners. Our website describes the project and offers educators of other Indigenous languages resources for developing their own, similar games.

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Fig. 1: Screenshots of ‘Analy Nyuwiich 

For learners of languages like Spanish in Albuquerque, or heritage learners of Mojave in northwestern Arizona, a well-designed mobile game can be a highly effective means for situated, experiential learning. For languages not used historically in or near the location they are being learned, however, a slightly different approach may be required.

In designing such a game, the challenge becomes how to situate and engage learners in a location where they simply cannot be physically. Inspired by ARIS games like Terri Nelson’s Paris Occupé, Kayo Shintaku at the University of Arizona designed a game that is heavily reliant on the map feature of ARIS, and requires students to navigate maps in Japanese in order to play, even though they are in a classroom in the US. In the game, players navigate the streets of Hiroshima and Miyajima Island, Japan, taking trains and ferries, interacting with a variety of people and animals, and ultimately completing a quest initiated by an A-bomb survivor. Key to creating a sense of place were realistic conversations and dialogues, images, videos, and sounds, and choices that were consequential to the game outcome. Also key were well designed supplementary pedagogical materials that directed students to make connections between the language, culture, and history that they encountered in the game and their own understandings, and that compelled them to practice the new language and engage with the new content in meaningful ways.

Hiroshima3      Hiroshima2      Hiroshima1

Fig. 2: Screenshots of Shintaku’s Hiroshima Game

Games that must be played in a certain location, or that must be played with other learners and a teacher, accompanied by supplemental materials, may in some ways seem antithetical to the idea that educational games should promote autonomous, independent learning, and should perhaps therefore be self-contained and “teacher-proof” to a certain extent. In truth, however, a game has meaning to its player only within its context of play (see Sykes & Reinhardt, 2012, p. 73)— and an involved teacher can help shape that context by drawing attention not just to the language and culture of study, but to how one can and should learn with mobile games, and why one should play critically. The immediate co-presence of a teacher and other learners can be leveraged to help situate mobile game-mediated learning and raise critical awareness, both with games that require players to be in a physical location, and those that have students imagine themselves to be in one. Bringing learners’ attention to how their smart devices can remove them from their immediate linguistic, cultural, and environmental landscape, with all its potentials for learning, by showing them how their devices can be used instead to ground and center them to the landscape, is crucial to effective mobile game-mediated learning, and key to critical learning.

-Jon Reinhardt, University of Arizona


Commercial Games and the World Language Classroom

Commercial Games and the World Language Classroom

A few weeks ago, at CALICO (Computer-Assisted Language Instruction Consortium) 2016, Johnathon Beals, Phillip Cameron, Brenda Imber, and Val Waldron gave a workshop entitled, “Meaningful Play: Gamers as Teachers.” This workshop addressed how to appropriately integrate commercially available games into course content. According to Reneé Marshall, workshop attendee, the workshop showed “how games can thoughtfully be used in the language classroom…this workshop [was] fun, informative and practical.”

As part of the workshop, presenters covered the Taxonomy Alignment for Gaming ( featured below.


This taxonomy alignment is particularly helpful for instructors trying to determine which games would be most appropriate to incorporate into the classroom.  As one can see, vocabulary and grammar memorization games like Duolingo, the games that are most readily-available and content-specific, involve the lowest order of thinking skills and are not always the best games to use. While the games certainly make the sometimes arduous task of memorization more fun, they do not necessarily serve to develop a learner’s language proficiency.

The potential for a game to aid a learner in improving his or her target language proficiency increases as one moves up the taxonomy featured here. Let us consider as our example Plague Inc., a digital commercial game (

This game, a game in which the player pretends that he or she is the CEO of a company trying to develop a disease that will successfully infect the entire world, involves a great deal of strategy, and to a lesser extent, exploration. While these aren’t the highest levels of cognition featured on the Taxonomy, the game provides for a clear example of how one might incorporate commercial games into the classroom.

To begin gameplay, each player names his or her disease. After that, the player picks a country to infect with the disease first. Before selecting the country, the player is able to find out additional information (socioeconomic standing, climate, topography, and population density) about the country in question in order to inform his or her selection.


As the player plays and the disease begins to spread, the player earns DNA points that can be used to evolve the disease in order to adapt it to the new countries that it enters.


At any point, the player can see the overall progression of the disease and can monitor any research being undertaken in order to combat the disease. This information will inform subsequent decision making.



So why use a game like this?

The answer to this question is multi-faceted and related to the high levels of active cognition employed both during gameplay and in potential follow-up activities. At the most basic level, the visual design of games like this provide players with so much visual context that even novice learners are able to infer the meaning of many targeted vocabulary words. Additionally, commercial games like Plague Inc. allow learners to explore and evaluate such concepts as innovation, community, and internationalism. These concepts ignite student engagement given their cross-curricular relevance. Finally, these games can serve as an inciting incident of sorts to springboard further classroom communication and exploration that is both authentic and contextualized. Novice learners can create semantic maps with the knowledge that the acquire through gameplay, intermediate learners can practice summarizing major events through live tweeting gameplay, and advanced learners can engage in roleplay scenarios in which the imagine the conversations that characters in the game would have. It is important to note that any of these activities should be supplemented by additional classroom discussion and instruction. In essence, the game not only involves contextualized language interpretation, but it also inspires contextualized and authentic language output on both the individual and classroom levels.

If you are interested in checking out activities to supplement Plague Inc. and a variety of other commercial games, check out what we have created at


New Game Using ARIS for Language Teaching

When it comes to place-based games, no application has proved more effective than ARIS (Augmented Reality Interactive Storytelling). The ways in which the creator can customize their games is only limited by their imagination. ARIS is used across the world for a number of different reasons, but most creations involve learning to some extent. In terms of language learning, several games already take advantage of the dynamic storytelling that ARIS offers, which include titles such as ‘Analy NyuwiichExplorez, and Ecopod.

Another game has been released on ARIS Profilecalled Finders Keepers, a game which involves the player making important decisions that will have a direct impact on the way the narrative progresses. The creator Becky Lawrence – a language teacher currently at the University of Oregon – recently gave us the chance to ask her some questions about her game and how she used ARIS for language teaching.

Q: Could you give us a brief overview of Finders Keepers?

Finders Keepers is an interactive story playable on any iOs device with the ARIS app installed. The player is immediately introduced with a choice of what to do with a briefcase they find outside their door. Each decision they make throughout the story spawns different paths to take and ultimately different outcomes. There are several themes throughout Finders Keepers that may spark classroom discussions about relevant issues including ethics and morals, wealth distribution, crime, social justice, and social relationships.

Q: What ways can you use the game in a language teaching environment?

Because Finders Keepers is an interactive story in which the player must make decisions that will impact their future in the game, they must think beyond the current choice; in this way, higher order thinking skills are being activated. In addition, Finders Keepers includes a downloadable booklet with activities that have been designed for students at all three ACTFL levels. Possible ways to use Finders Keepers in a language classroom include incorporating it into an existing unit involving similar themes, or presenting the interactive story as a basis for their own creative writing assignments.

Q: How many different languages could the game be used to teach?

Finders Keepers is in English and was originally designed for use in an ESL classroom, however it may also be used as an introduction to themes and topics in other languages as well.

Q: What inspired you to create Finders Keepers?

I originally designed Finders Keepers as part of a larger terminal project for the Language Teaching Specialization MA program at the University of Oregon. My ultimate goal is to have students make their own games like Finders Keepers in a creative writing course. Research shows that creative writing does not have a strong place in language teaching curriculum despite the numerous benefits it provides for language learners. Using Finders Keepers to spark interest and engagement in creative writing allows for the opportunity for students to express themselves in ways they cannot in academic writing, while developing skills that are used in academic writing as well.

If you would like to sample some of the classroom activities that Becky used with her game, she has graciously given us permission to share some of her materials. Feel free to download her packet of six activities found here and use them for your own class!