Do you like playing computer games? You can play more than 10,000 different games on Kongregate.com, for free. More games are added to the site every day, written by a legion of programmers hoping to win fame… and perhaps a very modest fortune … by creating a popular game.
It’s time to harness that raw creativity and technical talent for the Jewish community.
We can use games to teach the boring stuff of Jewish education, specifically Hebrew literacy and vocabulary.
Yes, there are already games to teach 100 words of Hebrew vocabulary, or the alef bet, or even which blessings to say when.
But these games haven’t taken off, for a simple reason: They don’t meet the needs of real Hebrew students.
Most Hebrew students — and I’m thinking here of Joey, my fourth grader whose favorite web site is Kongregate.com — have a specific goal in studying Hebrew. They want to do well on this week’s test.
So the words being taught have to be selected by a student’s teacher(s). There might be multiple lists for one student. Hebrew language and another for Tanakh class, in a day school setting. In a supplementary school, the vocabulary might consist of a few Hebrew letters… or of words that appear in the student’s Torah portion. It should be easy to select words keyed to a Biblical verse, a particular prayer, or a particular page of a Hebrew textbook.
But if the words are set by the teacher, the games need to be designed with the students in mind. They need to stand on their own as shoot-em-ups or puzzles or maze games or whatever genre is popular next year. But they don’t need to be programmed by educators… or even by Hebrew readers.
Kongregate.com offers programmers a set of instructions of how to interface the game they create to Kongregate’s back end of score keeping and advertising. The Hebrew game portal can similarly specify how each game would receive the player’s custom vocabulary list. How to take a dozen or two English-Hebrew word pairs and make a game out of it — that would be the programmer’s responsibility.
(Adobe did us a big favor last year when it released version 10 of its Flash player, the software in which the myriad free web games run. With the newest Flash, it’s easy to program bidirectional text — eliminating a practical obstacle to Hebrew in Flash games.)
The first games would have to be commissioned for the site, so it’s worth noting that the cost to hire a programmer to create a casual game like this has been estimated at below $10,000. When the project takes off, it can be largely self-supporting: a small membership fee, paid on a per-student basis by the participating school, could easily cover server and bandwidth costs.
Would-be players who aren’t enrolled by their school won’t be left out: They could be taught the Hebrew alphabet, and 100 basic words. But for participants, suddenly the stuff of homework — repetitive practice of vocabulary words — becomes a gaming matter. It’s a lot of Hebrew learning for a relatively small cost.
This post is part of the series 28 Days, 28 Ideas. Check out yesterday’s idea, Tzedakah Box 2.0 over at 31 Days, 31 Ideas. And be sure to check out tomorrow’s idea at JTA’s Fundermentalist blog. You can also visit 28days28ideas.com for the full list of ideas as they progress.