topical media & game development
elements of a chinese language game
language(s) / game(s) / resource(s) / lecture(s)
paper, we elaborate on work presented at the Dutch crossmedia
PICNIC festival, in a special symposium entitled:
the China Language Bridge.
We will discuss
a number of online resources, including games, for learning the chinese language, including chinese characters which are also used in japanese.
After a brief digression on potential pitfalls in using online
translation services, we will present some ideas, and indicate
in what way these ideas might be realized using the XIMPEL interactive
video platform, developed on top of the open source flex/as3 SDK.
Such an approach would cover both the need to introduce appropriate
context to stimulate language learning, as well as the unaviodable
repetitions, which often proves to be one of the main obstacles
for effective language learning.
Keywords and phrases: chinese language, serious games
At the PICNIC crossmedia festival 2007,
Chinese Radio Amsterdam,
currently also known as CRTV,
a local media organization for the chinese community in the Netherlands,
the China Language Bridge, a symposium with a great variety of speakers,
from a commercial as well as educational background.
Topics covered by the symposium included: city and language guides
on mobile phones, automatic translation of incoming and outgoing emails,
and chinese language games.
There are multiple reasons to focus on chinese for a language game,
as summarized below:
- chinese -- growing impact ...
- language -- syntax, semantics, and pragmatics
- game -- effective method to learn
- elements -- available online components
There are multiple reasons to be involved
in developing chinese language games, when looking at the
chinese language in terms of global impact and the complexity,
or for that matter intriguing nature
of the language, especially from a western perspective, [Ross & Ma (2006)].
Also, it should need no argument that games are an effective
way to learn, [Eliens & Ruttkay (2009)], or at least support the learning of a language,
taking into account that many elements are, in principle,
available as online components, including grammar definitions
In addition, however, I must confess to my personal motivation to learn
the chinese language.
And, I must admit, it was much more difficult than I expected,
giving me another reason not to give up.
Learning to read, write and speak chinese, may the least of
it considered to be an interesting challenge.
And as such an excellent topic for game play!
The structure of this paper is as follows.
We will first look at what constitutes a chinese character,
and then briefly look at what online resources are available
for (learning) chinese.
As a digression we will present an online translation example,
humorous in itself, but nevertheless a warning for potential
pitfalls in this area.
We discuss a simple language game, and introduce what in our opinion
are core elements of a language game: play, learn and explore.
Then we will propose a platform for the realization of (serious)
language games, and present initial ideas for scenarios to be
worked out in the future, after which we will draw (preliminary)
By way of acknowledgement,
all help in translation
is by google translation service.
WHAT IS IN A CHARACTER?
For a western person, chinese characters are deeply intriguing,
whether on the billboards of Shinjuku (Tokio) or the shops
Due to their shape and the implied meanings of the characters,
chinese writing is significantly distinct from western writing,
leaving the uninitiated spectator utterly puzzled.
An interesting approach to teaching westerns the
contruction rules of chinese characters is taken by the
artist Xu Bing, who showed, and demonstrated in workshops,
how to create words in western alfabet using elements
and construction principles from chinese writing,
as illustrated below, showing a possible logo for chinese radio.
www.xubing.com / 华语电台.nl
When learning chinese characters, above all, it seems important
to understand the significance of the individual elements
of which the character is constructed, and the rules of composition,
that is the way meaningful combinations are made.
- pictograph(s) -- e.g. 木 = tree
- ideograph(s) -- abstractions, e.g. 一 = one
- logical aggregate(s) -- e.g. 安 = peace (roof, woman)
- phonetic complex -- e.g. 忠 = loyal (center, heart)
- associative transformation(s) -- concept extension
- borrowing(s) -- unrelated, similar pronunciation
In addition to an explanation of the meaning of the elements
and rules of composition,
most textbooks dealing with chinese characters suggest the reader
one or more metaphors to help memorizing the characters,
which is, for example, easy to find in the character for peace.
Cf. [McNaughton (2005)], [Wang (1993)].
RESOURCES FOR CHINESE
There are ample online resources for chinese,
tools for reading and writing,
the already mentioned
google translation services,
as well as overviews of
Interestingly, many of these online resources can be accessed
as a web service using a simple REST API, an explanation of which falls
outside the scope of this paper.
With the rise of the mobile phones, gadgets such as the
are increasingly being replaced by applications for the mobile device.
In particular, one of the technologies that may have a significant
impact on mobile city and laguage guides is the
augmented reality browser
for iPhone and Android from Layar.
As a note, a reference worthwhile for the ardent \LaTeX/\TeX users
is provided in the instruction pages for the
an exercise in online translation
To illustrate potential pitfalls of automated translation,
look at the fragment(s) below.
daft punk -- technologic (cn / jp)
Buy it, use it, break it, fix it.
Trash it, change it, melt -- upgrade it.
Change it, point it, zoom it, press it.
Snap it, work it, quick -- erase it.
Write it, out it, paste it, save it.
Load it, check it, quick -- rewrite it.
Plug it, play it, burn it, rip it.
Drag and drop it, zip -- unzip it.
Look it, fill it, curl it, find it.
View it, coat it, jam -- unlock it.
Surf it, scroll it, pose it, click it.
Cross it, crack it, twitch -- update it.
Name it, rate it, tune it, print it.
Scan it, send it, fax -- rename it.
Touch it, bring it. Pay it, watch it.
Turn it, leave it, stop -- format it.
Translating this into chinese, omitting the last 4 lines, gives us:
Now, translating it back to english brings distortions to the surface
which, humorous in this context, might be devastating in a more
Buy it, use it, break it, fix it.
Refuse it, change it, the melting -- escalation.
To change it, it is 1:00 and protecting it. it is the news.
Breaking it, it's work, fast -- erase.
write it, it, and paste it to save it.
load it, check it, fast -- rewritten.
plug it, play it, burn it, rip it.
Dragging, Zip -- it opened.
, it curled fill it, find it.
It seems that the name of Jam -- unlock.
surfing, Scroll, which constitutes, click it.
it crossed the cracks, convulsion -- Update.
its name, fine-tuning the speed, print.
scanning, sending, fax -- renamed.
Touch it and take it. pay no attention to it, do it.
Conversely, leaving it to stop -- formatting.
Admittedly, this is not a representative example,
and, to be honest, I am impressed by the overall quality
of translations as provided by for example the google translation
service. However, such errors may also be used in a language
learning game, as a (language) mini game about ambiguity of meaning,
in particular in chinese where for example mispronuncations,
which are quit common due to the unfamiliar tonal character
of the language, may lead to widely divergent meanings.
ONLINE LANGUAGE GAMES
A simple selection game, for memorizing kanji
(chinese characters used in japanese)
can be found in the online kanji game, which allows to switch between all
combinations of english, kanji and kana (the native japanese characters).
A prototypical language learning game is
knuckles in china land,
also for japanese,
which takes the player through various rooms and
requires the player to answer (in a very simple way) to particular situations and challenges.
To support a television program for learning chinese,
the dutch educational broadcasting society provided
a website with additional online games,
mainly consisting of images of situations or room, where the player
must guess, after some training sessions, the meaning of objects,
by selecting the appropriate chinese word.
using web services
<form action="http://www.google.com/translate_t" method=get id="text_form" >
<input type=hidden name=hl value="en">
<input type=hidden name=ie value="UTF8">
<textarea rows=3 cols=60 name=text dir=ltr id=source>
<option value="zh|en" selected>Chinese to English</option>
<option value="en|zh-CN">English to Chinese (Simplified)</option>
<option value="en|zh-TW">English to Chinese (Traditional)</option>
<input type=submit value="translate">
In a similar way, many chinese learning tools provide
scenarios, in which the user/player takes a particular role
in a prototypical situation, as indicated in figure 2.
PLAY, LEARN, EXPLORE
To communicate in a foreign language, in particular for young children,
nor grammar nor an extensive vocabulary are important.
Most important is that a limited set of words can be used in an
Figure 3 illustrates a simple game to learn the words for the
various colors, simply by stepping on the right spot on the (color)
Either in real life or by means of video, such situations may be helpful
to acquire intuitive mastery of such canonical vocabulary as
colors, or for example, greetings, or even table manners.
Such games provide a suitable context, as well as a task
that is entertaining in itself, thus motivating the
player to repeat, that is to jump to the right spot
whenever a new color is called for.
In general the (game) mechanics underlying such interactions may be summarized as:
- play -- turn-based, score(s)
- learn -- simulation model, target(s)
- explore -- interactive video, mini games
Such (game) mechanics, as illustrated in figure 4, allow for
dealing with the various elements of learning a language,
that is: providing a natural context with proper challenges,
well-defined tasks and repetition, repetition,
SERIOUS GAMES PLATFORM
In [Eliens et al. (2008)] we have described a platform, originally developed
in the context of a climate game, [Eliens et al. (2007)],
that allows for a seamless integration of the various elements
of a (chinese) language game, as indicated above. See figure 5.
Technically, the characteristics of XIMPEL may be summarized
- ajax -- dynamic update(s)
- flex/as3 SDK -- XML game description template(s)
- (flash) video -- interactive video, mini game(s)
However, more importantly is that XIMPEL has proved
itself to be a viable platform for media productions
that fall anywhere between interactive storytelling and gameplay,
and also allows for tracking choices of the user/player
to provide a meaningful interpretation of the score, [Eliens & Ruttkay (2008)].
STORY & GAME SCENARIOS
- 踢 (ti) -- kicking
- 打 (da) -- punching
- 摔交 (shuai [kuai] jiao) -- (fast) take down
- 拿 (na) -- capture/seize
Having taken an active interest in learning chinese,
and chinese culture, I would also like to suggest particular
topics around which chinese language games could be developed.
One (obvious) topic is
kung fu, written as 工夫 , the literal translation
of which is hardworking men, not excluding women by the way.
The literature abounds with stories and myths of practitioners
of martial arts with superhuman powers, in search for missions
to prove their mastery and solve human problems.
CF. [Liang & Wu (1964)].
12 model(s) / 型
(1) move like a tidal wave,
(2) still as a great mountain,
(3) jump like an ape,
(4) land like a magpie,
(5) balance like a rooster,
(6) stand like a pine tree,
(7) spin like a wheel,
(8) bend like a bow,
(9) light as a leaf,
(10) heavy as iron,
(11) suspend like an eagle,
(12) fast like the wind
| Fig. (6) Gaming Workshop,|| Shanghai 2005|
Another line of stories may be derived from
Wei Cheng ( 围城 ),
the famous novel of the writer and scholar Qian Zhongshu
( 钱钟书 ),
which relates about the home coming to Shanghai of the main character
Fang Hongjian ( 方鸿渐 ),
who will later leave Shanghai for an eventually failing career
at a university in mid-China ( 三闾大学 ).
The opening sentence of this novel (in the learners edition) reads:
Apart from being an excellently written novel, the life of the main character bears
some resemblance to my own life.
Moreover, the background of the story, Shanghai in a period of global
turmor provides an excellent stage for in some sense the anti-hero
Fang Hongjian, thus allowing for a range of quasi-dramatic interactions
Even in modern times, this may lead to compelling cinematic games,
with questions such as what are you going to do in Shanghai
In this paper we have investigated some of the possible
elements of a chinese language game, both from a personal interest and
technical interest, and, most importantly, from a more general interest in
game development as well.
Written from an entirely western perspective of chinese language
learning, it may nevertheless give the inspiration
and some insights of how to develop a chinese language game,
making use of online resources and web services as they become available.
- chinese -- characters, grammar, usage
- language -- tools, translation, context
- game -- play, learn, explore
- elements -- dialog(s), video, mini games
Thanks to Hong Tong Wu for involving me in the
Chinese Radio Amsterdam activities, and inviting me
for the PICNIC 2007 event.
And to my wife Yiwen Wang, not for teaching me chinese,
but above all for making not only the chinese culture
but everything else as well so vibrantly alive!
- [Climate] Eliens A., van de Watering M., Huurdeman H.,
- Bhikharie S.V., Lemmers H., Vellinga P. (2007), Clima Futura @ VU -- communicating (unconvenient) science,
In Proc. GAME-ON 07, Bologna, Italy
- [XIMPEL] Eliens A., Huurdeman H., van de Watering M.,
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In Proc. GAME-ON 2008, Valencia, Spain
- [Replay] Eliens A. and Ruttkay Z. (2008),
- Record, Replay & Reflect -- a framework for understanding (serious) game play,
In Proc. Euromedia 2009, Brugge, Belgium
- [Math] Eliens A. and Ruttkay Z. (2009),
- Math game(s) -- an alternative (approach) to teaching math?,
In Proc. GAME-ON 2009, Dusseldorf, Germany
- [Elements] Linag Shou-Yu and Wu Wen-Ching (1964),
- Kung Fu Elements -- Wushu Training and Martial Arts Application manual,
The Way of the Dragon Publishing
- [Writing] McNaughton W. (2005),
- Reading & Writing Chinese Characters -- Simplified Character Edition,
Tuttle Language Library
- [Weicheng] Qian Zhongshu (1947),
- Wei Cheng (The Besieged City),
Sinolingua 1994 (student edition)
- [Grammar] Ross C. and Ma Jing-heng Sheng (2006),
- Modern Mandarin Chinese Grammar -- A Practical Guide,
- [Origins] Wang Hongyuan (1993),
- The origins of chinese characters,
is professor creative technology / new media
at the University of Twente and coordinator
of multimedia @ VU University Amsterdam.
He has experience in
web-based media, interactive video,
and the development of serious games.
You may not copy or print any of this material without explicit permission of the author or the publisher.
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