Today’s post is a guest post by Kevin Ballestrini.
“What exactly is Operation LAPIS? Is it a game? Is it a simulation? How do you play?”
While there isn’t a simple answer to these big questions, we’ll endeavor to give you just enough to travel headlong down the rabbit hole should you decide to do so. In short, Operation LAPIS is an interactive adventure in which students perform their learning in an engaging manner. It is designed with some of the best affordances games have to offer and we certainly wouldn’t argue against calling it a game, but it’s primarily an ongoing, and episodic, collaborative performance. In short, students in Operation LAPIS learn how to think, act, read, write, and speak like a Roman by performing as a convincing young Roman, and thus finding immediate relevance for those skills.
While many of the popular textbook series allow the students to follow a story that involves important figures and events, Operation LAPIS allows them to play a story in which they are able to demonstrate their continuous growth as learners of Latin and of Roman culture. Instead of merely reading about important figures and events, Operation LAPIS allows the students to perform as a young Roman present at some of the monumental moments in Roman history.
How does that work? Operation LAPIS uses some of the most important and compelling aspects of modern digital games; role-playing in an imaginary world, collecting, leveling, and questing. Students are first and foremost operatives recruited to save the world by learning Latin. The instructor plays as an agent of the shadowy figure called “the Demiurge,” who has founded an organization with the purpose of saving civilization by giving students the opportunity to gain the skills necessary to keep the values of the ancient world alive. They do this by entering into a text-based simulation of the ancient world in which they must find and decipher the LAPIS SAECULORUM.
From there the students-as-operatives are divided into teams, collaboratively controlling a young person of the gens Recentia in the ancient world, deliberating and deciding what their Recentius or Recentia will do in response to the episodes of the story that will unfold before them, and which they will themselves are able to shape. This collaboration happens within of two popular (and free) platforms; Google Docs and Edmodo.
Finally, in order to gain the skills they will need to find and decipher the LAPIS, they have to work to attune themselves to that simulation of the ancient world by practicing reading Latin, doing exercises, collecting morphological forms and grammatical constructions, and doing basic research to discover the secrets of the Romans that will allow them to make their way in Roman culture.
The story takes their Recentii across the Roman world, beginning on the outskirts of Pompeii and ending in Rome itself, having seen much of the empire in the process. They also travel in time and in imagination within the story, going back to the Titanomachy and the Trojan War, to Carthage, to Alexandria when Octavian took it. At every point, they follow the trail of the LAPIS, but they will learn that the LAPIS is merely the Demiurge’s way of expressing the never-ceasing struggle in Roman culture between the forces of traditional authority and the forces of populism; to understand the LAPIS, they will have to understand the complex social history of Rome. They learn how to answer the question “What made Rome great?” in many different ways, gaining in the process the ability to evaluate our own cultural practices by comparison.
While this is only a small glimpse into all of the mechanics and features of practomimetic learning, we invite you to explore more about Operation LAPIS, including how to get started with the full featured two mission demo, on practomime.com.