Adventures in time

2nd June 2006 at 01:00
John Galloway tries a game program to improve language


Games package for speaking and listening, from Desq in association with Oxford University Press

From pound;300

I was stuck in the Pharaoh's tomb. I'd crossed the molten river, passed the bodyguard, swapped the real jewel for the fake and given the original to the High Priest for safe-keeping, then I'd used the candlestick to defeat Skriker, the story's villain, who can't stand iron, so on producing it his head caved in and he disappeared in a puff of smoke.

That was it. Mission accomplished. In fact I'd completed it at least eight times, I just couldn't work out how to leave so my energy levels fell to fatal and I had to be revived to do it all again. I'd checked the map, but there was nowhere else I needed to go. So why couldn't I leave?

What I needed was a bunch of nine-year-olds. They would know what to do.

They've been playing games like this for years. And this one was especially designed for them as part of the eQuest series from Oxford University Press. This is a package of computer games designed around the speaking and listening requirements for key stage 2. Each year group is set three adventures, all broken down into 10 sections that could be played on a weekly basis as part of the literacy timetable.

The package is tightly structured, with learning objectives, lesson plans, and photocopiable resources, as the computer game is only part of the learning. It is suggested that each section takes about 20 minutes, with elements getting harder as you progress. This is certainly true, although some of the earlier elements are pretty easy and pupils may not want to stop after just one scenario. What they will want to do, though, is talk.

Although it is thought that playing games on computers is a solitary activity, it often involves conversations about strategy and what to do next.

Talk isn't left to chance here. Each group has five members with particular jobs such as chair, scribe, and reporter, who are guiding Jake, a member of the Time Crew, an ethnically rich bunch of boys and girls, on missions across time. These are set by the grey-haired Bodach in order to thwart Skriker. One pupil also acts as the mentor whose role is "to check how everybody in the group joins in the discussion", which is just one part of the peer and self-evaluation tools which are built in.

There is a strong narrative element to these adventures written by Roger Hurn, because they are driven by the story. There are no flashy graphics; everything is seen from a bird's eye view which Jake toddles through, driven by clicks of the mouse. This is not Tomb Raider or Grand Theft Auto.

The story is the point of the game, not the action. And retelling your role in the story is part of the off-screen activity with built-in tools including a snapshot button to record scenes, and a journal to note conversations.

It's a story I could tell, if only I could get out of there. I had searched every edge of the room, approached the Priest and his bodyguard, and even confronted Skriker head on. What I hadn't done was keep in mind all the elements of the game. The Thinkcom alert was flashing to show me there was a message from the rest of the crew to tell me what to do. My problem was not paying enough attention. Your problem will be trying to convince them that their turn is over.

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