Mentira, a project launched in July 2009, is the first mobile, place-based, augmented reality game explicitly oriented towards the development of language skills in Spanish. It is set in a Spanish-speaking neighborhood in Albuquerque, NM and plays out much like a historical novel in which fact and fiction combine to set the context and social conditions for meaningful interaction (in Spanish) with simulated characters, other players, and local citizens. While playing Mentira, learners must investigate clues and talk to various non-player characters (NPCs) in order to absolve their own family, proving they are not responsible for a murder in a local neighborhood. In a core component of the game, players are required to visit the local neighborhood in order to collect additional clues and, ultimately, solve the mystery by determining the responsible party.
Especially relevant to language learning is the possibility of using mobile games to create hands-on, situated learning experiences, related to individual students’ linguistic backgrounds and interests. These can include exploration, practice, language production, and collaboration in a variety of learning contexts. Participation in such diverse contexts has long been lauded as a powerful means of developing language proficiency (as well as an end in and of itself), but has proven a difficult experience to effectively produce or reference within the confines of a classroom (Thorne, 2008; Sykes, Oskoz & Thorne, 2008; Sykes, in press).
In pursuit of these broad goals, we have produced a locally-centered mobile game for spanish language learning through two major iterations, and are well on our way to making participation in this game a standard part of all 202 Spanish classes here at UNM. In addition to the burgeoning success of the particular game we have designed, we believe we have made progress towards developing models in the following areas: