Level: Intermediate & above
Location: Home computer
Topic: Worlds domination
Skills Focus: Writing
Game: Astro Empires
Astro Empires is a purely text based game. Look on the left at the screenshot and what you see is pretty much what you get. It’s not at all the kind of special effects driven game that dominates the market at the moment yet over 40,000 players are registered to the site.
What is Astro Empires?
Astro Empires is what is called a “more peg” or a massively multiplayer online role playing game or MMORPG. You start off on a single planet with very little resources and you have to build up an empire. You start by building metal refineries. Once you’ve built one of them you now have metal to start constructing other buildings. Each different building you construct opens up new buildings and new technologies that you can build and develop. As your level gets higher you get more powerful but it takes longer and costs more credits to build things. When you get to a high enough technology you can build a space fleet and start to expand to other planets but BEWARE! There are other players out there too so you need to join a guild in order to make friends, get a little help and protection as well as finding a common purpose in the game.
How did I hear of it?
Believe it or not one of my learners got me into it. A teen lad who used to arrive late to my class, cause trouble to attract attention and generally treated class time as anything but an English class. One day after we had been edugaming in the computer room he came up and spoke to me. This was unusual not only because it was time to go home but also because he was talking to me in English – at a time he’d usually have been out the door, down the hill and be waiting at the bus stop to go home. I expressed my surprise at this and really wanted to know what was behind this miracle. He wanted to show me a game he was into. The game he showed me was Astro Empires. It wasn’t a great surprise he was into an online game – he’s a digital native don’t you know. It wasn’t even a great surprise he was into a game that involved empire expansion, space battles and worlds colliding though I would have pegged him more as an ‘online football manager‘ kinda guy. Instead my surprise came from the fact that there were no gleaming ships with evil looking weaponry, no explosions and no nothing apart from text. Even more amazing was that he communicated extensively with other players on one of the 5 notice boards IN ENGLISH!
How much English is produced?
As the screenshot above shows it is text, text, text. There are 5 boards by which players give or receive information from the rest of their guild members (think team) about strategy, trade routes, combat reports, general announcements from the guild leaders and a final board for general chit chat. There are also forums where you can get strategy guides, start up guides, advice, help and general support in the game. I think my troublesome learner was getting through more English than there was in the coursebook and with none of the pretty pictures. I was and still am a little in awe of that. I didn’t just want to get on board to see what all the fuss was about but also I saw that he’d attempted a third condition (something about if he’d kept an eye on the enemy base he would have noticed a build up of his fleet and done something about it but in intermediatese) and I reckoned I could get in there a tweek language a little.
How did I start?
I became an apprentice to my learner. I joined the same galaxy he was in (there are a few non connected galaxies you can join) told him where I was, joined his guild and generally listened to him tell me what to do. I wasn’t too happy when he attacked me and raided my resources but as soon as he learnt his aggression was index linked to the amount of homework he’d get in my class we soon settled down to a peaceful co-existence. I could find the start up guides but I just told him I didn’t have time for all that and just threw questions at him to which a lot he replied. I found ways to model more complex structures in situations I found myself in and was pleased to note that he was soon reporting to fellow players with a much more accurate use of conditionals. My work here was done.
Ironically enough my learner played the game for another year and then sort of drifted out of the game. He probably lost interest and found other more interesting teen things to do. I’m relieved to say that my tutelage in English didn’t put him off. If anything he came out a bit more in class and even went as far as to recruit two more of his friends into the game. No doubt to check out the novelty of their teacher playing their online game. Once out of the game and having completed a year course with me some 6 months previously I lost touch with him and who knows whether he’s conquering galaxies now. Maybe he became a lawyer or something (that’s what he wanted to be).
If I ever do get the chance I start the game up with other learners especially if they already have an interest in online games. Intensive courses have proved good recruiting grounds and I set down a few rules:
A disadvantage of this game is that to stop multiple accounts being created the designers of the game have made it difficult to play the game all in one place. Maybe a good thing but it means game play takes place in the gamers own time and in their own homes. But get this – it’s homework they enjoy, actively use and struggle to master. Any way to get them writing in English, eh?