ESL Hack: Apocalypse World for Chinese children

  • 3 Replies
ESL Hack: Apocalypse World for Chinese children
« on: November 06, 2010, 12:14:36 AM »
I'm working on a roleplaying game designed specifically as an activity that my students can use to learn English and have a good time doing it. I'm interested in any of you can give me some feedback for how to adapt the AW rules to this purpose. Obviously we wouldn't use the standard AW setting as it is, but something more kid-friendly. First, though, I'm interested in some questions about the rules themselves.

I've found the rules as they are have a 3 problems for ESL with children:

1. The moves are too dense in terms of language processing. For a native speaker to process a move just takes a few seconds and feels quite natural, but for a non-native speaker, it can be a real chore to parse it all, especially more idiomatic terms like "under fire," "read a sitch," and others. I have tried reducing the language to the simplest level possible, but it seems both too vague and too bland: "do something difficult" instead of "act under fire" for instance. I'd like to see if it's possible even to reduce it to a few strong words, drawn in a sort of mind-map or other diagram to show the choices visually instead of as text. Does anyone have an idea how to do this?

2. Cards work better than dice with these kids. Dice tend to get fiddled with a lot and it becomes a distraction, plus students always want to reroll negative results, but cards are final once they get turned over. I've tested both and cards seem like the way to go for me. Is it possible to adapt AW like mechanics to cards?

3. I'm using a system where students get to draw one card for each vocabulary word they use in their narration of how they try to solve a problem or do a move. It's more like Otherkind at the moment, and drawing more cards is sort of like rolling extra dice in that system. It lets me focus only on words instead of numbers, and this is something I'd like to try to keep in my system. Even stats like "cool +1" feel like too much math for my students -- I'd rather they focused on the words more, and I want the system to reward spontaneous language use.

If you have any ideas or suggestions about any of these questions, especially how to preserve the awesomeness of the AW system while still meeting these different needs, or apply some of the awesomeness of the AW system to another system that meets these needs, I'd love to hear them. Thanks in advance!

(As for the background of this project: I live in China, and I'm really enjoying this -- every week I have two classes where I get to playtest my game, and watch how my students, my game, and my own knowledge are all improving every time. I even get paid to do it. I'm hoping to develop this game to the point where I can publish it here and promote it as a tool for learning English, which is very popular in China right now.)

Re: ESL Hack: Apocalypse World for Chinese children
« Reply #1 on: November 06, 2010, 11:17:43 AM »
Cool project! Sounds pretty daunting to me.

That being said, here are my thoughts:

1) On the density, I think maybe you'd want to be more explicit with the implications of the move as well as the act. So, instead of "Act under fire" or "do something difficult" you might say "Do something with a risk of complication" (maybe getting even more bland and wordy :) ). The idea being that the idiomatic phrase "act under fire" carries a lot of information for English speakers, it's clear to us before we even read the 7-9 results that it's a situation where it's possible to a) get what you want, b) have something bad happen to you, c) both, or d) neither. I don't know how to make that clear to Chinese speakers without being super explicit.

2) Too bad, I like dice :) That being said, if you want to keep the same probabilities, the main trick is to make sure you reshuffle and draw from a full range every time. The hard part here is that each number from 2-12 is not equally likely on 2d6, so you can't just write 2-12 on index cards and draw one. What I think you'd want to do, off the top of my head, is "emulate" dice by just having two sets of ace-6 cards, and re-shuffle before every draw. If you want to get into why that is more, I'd be happy to, and I'm sure there are more knowledgeable probability nerds here to help out.

3) If you're going with this, ignore what I just said above :) Neat idea. Does it increase the chance of complications? Or would that be counterproductive to encouraging vocabulary use?

Re: ESL Hack: Apocalypse World for Chinese children
« Reply #2 on: November 06, 2010, 01:41:26 PM »
Thanks for your reply Jeff! I agree it is a rather puzzling question.

1. The whole problem with this is that trying to simplify the language creates phrases that are not only bland, but unclear. The richness of meaning that comes from short and tight idioms is lost, and you end up with long bland sentences that don't get anyone excited. That's why I'm thinking a move could be designed something like this:
"Face a danger"
good = Do it.
mixed = Do it, but...
bad = Can't do it.

"Solve a problem"
good = It's solved!
mixed = Partly solved...
bad = It gets worse.

Here we're not yet talking about how to reach either of these three categories mechanically, of course, but rather ways of framing the move using evocative but simple key words or short phrases, rather than prose. How could we simplify "read a sitch" for example?

2. Yep, the dice are like candy for their fingers. They keep wanting to play with them and fudge the results. The cards do make them want to peek at the results before it's time, but that's easy to fix with a rule that once they look at the cards they can't draw any more and it's time to resolve the challenge.

I'm also really hoping that the cards mechanic somehow rewards specific language use. So for example, instead of saying, "I catch the thief," they would have to use 'story words' (or vocabulary I give them) to their advantage, as in, "I run quickly and throw my magic scarf around his legs, to make him..." Here a student might ask me how to say 'trip,' so I teach him and write it on the board as a special vocabulary word, then he continues, "To make him trip!" And for all this hard work he gets three cards!

But can this work for AW-style play? And if so, then what should the numbers, letters, colors and suits of those three cards mean? That's the question.

3. What I'm using now is actually more like Otherkind than AW: we basically set the stakes beforehand, so that the students know what the goals and dangers are, and then draw cards they can use to try and overcome the various obstacles. It's working okay for now, but if it's possible (and appropriate), I'd like to move to something where we don't have to set stakes beforehand, we can just say, "oh that's a move, narrate and draw the cards." You know -- "to do it, do it." Not, "to do it, first analyze all the possibilities, narrate your efforts and then see if they worked or not."

I tested a system where their card draws could add even more dangers and stuff, but it slowed down the game too much because we'd have to stop in the middle of a challenge to figure out new dangers.

Re: ESL Hack: Apocalypse World for Chinese children
« Reply #3 on: November 06, 2010, 09:26:32 PM »
Well, to steal an idea from Daniel Solis that he posted on Story Games and I think someone put up a post about here yesterday or today, you could make color matter.

So, maybe for each 'story word' or 'move' or whatever increment you decide to use, you draw a card. Higher cards are more likely to succeed, lower cards less so. Then color could be whether it's with or without complications. To avoid the Otherkind problem of talking out all kinds of stuff you end up not using, maybe use a simplified list of complications.

Alternatively, I just realized success/failure is binary, whereas complication can be graded, so why not make red success and black failure (or vice versa), and then high numbers are way complicated, and low numbers are not very complicated (again, or vice versa). That puts more onus on the MC/GM to interpret complications from actions, but that might be a nice feature for bringing in specific vocabulary words.