SA: Question Quest is a language learning game for 2-6 players that is meant to supplement and existing English language-learning curriculum and is best introduced to students who:
- Can understand simple texts.
- Can understand simply constructed sentences and simple instructions.
- Can produce speech and ask questions using simply constructed sentences.
- Need practice producing accurate and detailed sentences about about family, friends, school, hobbies, travel, shopping, sports, movies, music, food, weather, giving directions, introducing oneself, plans for a holiday, one's recent activities, foreign cultures, etc.
During a turn, while a student is asking the student on his left a question, the other students in the game may interrupt the asking and answering students using the game's special cards, each one named after a linguistic deficiency coping phrase like "I don't know!" “What’s your answer?” or "I'll answer that!"
There is also an “I have a Question!” special card that allows a student to ask any question to any other student in the game, and a “Tell me More!” card that demands a longer answer from a student after they answer correctly.
What sets Question Quest apart from other language learning card games are its rules. They are not based on an existing mainstream game where English speaking is peripheral to gameplay. In order to complete a turn and win a match of Question Quest, you must speak English. Question Quest is conversation with all its wonderful questions, answers, and best of all, interruptions! Teachers who take the time to teach their students how to play Question Quest are teaching their students how to function in an actual conversation and giving them the confidence and means to control and direct a conversation themselves.
SA: At the last eikaiwa (private English conversation schools in Japan) I worked at, I taught mostly children. I had an elementary school student who would not participate in the conversation circle activity I did regularly in class. While the other students were excited and speaking, he would just sit there. After limited or no success with other approaches, I finally got the student speaking with some homemade cards he could read from. Each card contained a single question, some example answers for the question, and an image taken from the Internet to illustrate the question’s purpose.
I also had another student, junior high school this time. I would ask him questions, and he would just look at me, smile nonchalantly, and say, “I don’t know.” This drove me crazy! At the time, I was still producing new homemade question cards for the elementary school student. Thinking of the junior high school student while I worked on the cards and feeling frustrated. I grumbled to myself that I should make a card with his picture on it and put the words “I don’t know!” at the top. Then it hit me, "Wait! What if I did make an I don’t know card?" That was when the basic idea for Question Quest formed.
DD: How did you go about creating the game? How long did it take to develop?
SA: Once I had the basic idea for the rules, I used an online card template and images from the internet to produce cards for play testing. I play-tested the game for half a year before taking the game to my great friend, fellow Street Fighter player, and CEO of Kenzai, Patrick Reynolds and showed him my idea. He loved it and together we refined the game, bringing on American game designer Darrell Hardy to consult on the rules and Australian artist Alice Carroll to give Question Quest a rich look unlike any educational card game out there. From start to finish, Question Quest took four years to produce.
SA: The characters and lore do not directly influence Question Quest’s gameplay. Instead, they--especially the art on each card--serve to help students to develop their intuition when it comes to understanding the game’s language content. Our feedback from customers is that the cards appeal to their students, that their students want to spend time with Question Quest cards. Students ask to take them home to stare lovingly at the art and read all the language that comes with them. Not many English language education games have this kind of appeal going for them.
But if the characters and lore do not directly affect gameplay, why go to all the trouble of producing such a rich world? Because Question Quest is only the beginning. We are developing other products as well, product that will make full use of Question Quest’s characters and lore. And this development has been made easier because of all the world-building we’ve already done.
DD: Have you met any resistance to using the game in class (from students or stakeholders)?
SA: Some schools have fixed curriculums which do not allow them to introduce additional materials into their classrooms. Question Quest has had difficulty getting into the classrooms of these schools.
Also, Question Quest takes time--about fifteen minutes to learn and twenty minutes to play. Schools are not always able to give that kind of time to games in their classroom.
But teachers who have put the time in have found QQ to be worth the investment. Over time as students get more familiar with the game, the deeper mechanics present themselves and the students’ confidence and conversation skills improve.
DD: The idea, look, and feel of the game seems well-suited to the Japanese RPG style – does the game also have international appeal?
SA: Question Quest has been ordered by teachers in China, Nepal, French Guiana, India, Turkey, and other countries all looking for a way to get their students engaged in conversation with each other.
DD: What do you say to people who dismiss GBL as ‘superficial fun’?
SA: I’m pleased to say I don’t run into these people very often, at least at the teacher level. The guard is changing and a more enlightened generation of teachers is replacing them. The real problem now is educational goals. Schools spend so much time teaching to standardised tests and other fixed elements, that it is hard to introduce games into a classroom when priority is put on things like getting through a textbook or all the items on a test-based curriculum by the end of the year. If people do need reassurance, I tell them Question Quest was designed with speaking test components like those found on the EIKEN and TOEFL firmly in mind.
DD: What’s your take on ‘educational video games’? What about the use of commercial video games in the classroom?
SA: The instinct to play is the most basic, innate, and natural way for people to learn. And a big part of that instinct is it is something that we think we choose to do, that we desire and want to do for ourselves and so we’ll put more effort into it. Games help facilitate learning through play and lure students into situations where they use the thing they are going to school to learn. However, currently education systems and games do not mesh well enough to achieve education’s current goals and education’s current goals are somewhat archaic. For example, Japan has a lot of standardised tests that need to be passed to get into high schools and universities. As far as I know, there are no games out there that serve that goal. And of course, the goal of passing these tests instead of developing skills actually relevant to the working world is also a big problem. The fact is education systems, classrooms, and even the role of the teacher will need complete rethinks before the relationship between games and education can reach its full potential.
DD: What do you see as the future of GBL in ELT (or in general)?
SA: Recently a company called Filament Games, a company that not only develops educational games but works on the much more difficult task of making games classroom ready based on current curriculum, conducted a study and finally got hard data on how a game can be refined and better integrated into the classroom. What they verified was that the teacher’s role in guiding the classroom is as crucial as ever with games acting as a force multiplier for a teacher’s instruction. This is how games need to be used in the classroom: as an instructional force multiplier.
One of the elements that sets Question Quest apart from other language learning games is it uses the teacher as a component during the course of the game. The teacher doesn’t just set up the game and then observe the students or walk away from them, but instead offers guidance and correction while the students play. This falls right in line with the findings of Filament’s study.
I hope Filament’s study will encourage more companies and researchers around the world to go after hard data on the relationship between classrooms and games and more school districts are open to accommodating these studies. This will go a long way to getting more games into the classroom.
DD: What does the future hold for Question Quest? Any plans for Question Quest II?
SA: We are currently working with a new partner on a new product that will bring more of our characters and world to the forefront. We can’t say much about it right now as confidentiality is part of our agreement, but rest assured, there will be more Question Quest to come!
Thanks for taking the time to talk to us Sean and thanks for introducing me to the game.