Learning On Country: Games for virtual display and sharing of Aboriginal languages in context


Nginya naaa-da banga-mari dalang wingaru-dane. Ngyina diya-ma murri dalan-wa dalang-ra. The project is a language revival tool (in the form of a game) aimed at Indigenous and non-indigenous Australians, with prototype aimed at UTS students, staff and visitors. Aboriginal culture is held within country and embodied in the landscape so the game allows learners to immerse  in the country of the language. For this prototype version, the language is Dharug and the country is the land which UTS occupies. The game has been designed so that players explore this country in its pre-invasion state, learning Dharug language along the way. This game brings a deeper understanding and acknowledgement of country for students, staff and visitors.
The project has been designed as a prototype and is unique in its aim to use computing methods to enable gaming and learning techniques in a template interface that can then be tailored to specific Indigenous languages, reducing the work required to support more languages.

The research project have produced an immersive 3D language game for distribution through UTS Data Arena, multi-screen or single computer screen that provides:

  • An immersive environment where the player can interact with language;
  • Game interfaces in language for exploring detail through immersion in country and culture using language from existing related websites;
  • A language game based around the UTS site;
  • Applied research knowledge that can be disseminated through journal articles etc.

The game also lends itself to high school cultural and language programs and provides an interactive and immersive game platform to engage high school students. It addresses a key difficulty for language teachers, which has been to learn their language before they present in schools. The game format presents an active learning environment to learn more aspects of language. By linking to web repositories the project also provides a collaborative system where teachers can share their knowledge and develop and share lessons through the public or private web sites.  

This project is collaboration between DAB and FEIT, with support from the School of Computer Science and School of Professional Practice and Leadership.


The project aimed at producing an immersive game system for Aboriginal language and the knowledge the language reflects. It utilised multi-disciplinary skills of UTS FEIT and DAB staff and students to prototype a procedural content generation template for the automation of language game generation. Previous animated language examples use modeling with playdough, videos or individual story animation. This system provides development support of language scenarios with interactivity for learning. 

UTS researchers have been exploring gaming as a teaching process through UTS FEIT Centre CITRD. Cat Kutay has developed language resources collected in API accessible web repositories. Deborah Szapiro has been working with Indigenous communities, creatives and students producing culturally specific animation. Jaime Garcia and William Raffe have been designing and developing learning games.


The project has been developed with methodologies from both the immersion techniques used at Muurrbay Language and Culture Cooperative in Nambucca Heads and the game design methodologies taught within BSc Games Development program.

A 3D model of pre-invasion UTS environs have been designed and populated with significant objects relevant to material from language site. Language resources from Muurrbay and other language centres have been used linked to these objects, such as translations and sentence examples related to the object’s English descriptor. The environment, objects and language can be accessed via a game format with language practice exercises around these animated and inanimate objects, so that language is learnt in an immersive and interactive context. 
Students from the BSc Games Development and the B.Des. Animation program were hired to implement the design, developing challenges and feedback as well as modelling the country. The B.Des.Animation program has significant numbers of Indigenous students to work on the project.
In bringing these resources together with an immersive learning environment, we have provide data for procedural generation of learning plans. 

Social Impact/Significance/Innovation

The U.N. General Assembly has declared 2019 the Year of Indigenous Languages in order to raise awareness of the endangerment of Indigenous languages worldwide and to highlight the connection between language, development, culture, self-esteem and reconciliation. Of the estimated 300-700 languages spoken across Australia in 1788, only 160 are still spoken in any form and only 13 are spoken by children at home. Without language support and revitalisation projects, we will lose the 147 that are spoken by older people only. This project is innovative in its aim to prototype a template interface for a language game that can be tailored to Indigenous languages across Australia.

Future Work

The long term aim is to provide environments to teach knowledge embedded in Aboriginal languages on storytelling, sustainability and stable governance, with translation if necessary. All these factors are aspects taught at UTS in FEIT and which we aim to enhance with knowledge from traditional owners. These learning environment provide a way to allow learners to engage in their own time with material from community, while using the storytelling approaches used in this knowledge sharing, and retaining the data governance of the material in the hands of  the contributors

Participatory design workshops on country (Sydney and Nambucca)  will be presented to people interested in teaching and learning Aboriginal languages, including language speakers, as part of the ongoing design of the interface. The first languages used will be Dharug with alternate Bundjalung land and language set in that environment, as these websites are well populated with material.

There is also potential for collaboration with the State Library of NSW to teach Aboriginal language in context during NAIDOC and other events. Similarly with the Sydney Festival, Jacinta Tobin runs classes in Dharug, a language of the Sydney Basin.


  • Cat Kutay (Lead CI/ Project Lead)
  • Deborah Szapiro (Academic in Animation/ Producer)
  • Zac Casimatis (Game Developer)
  • Martin Peploe (Sound Designer)
  • Josh Yass (Animation Expert)
  • Jalamara Towney (Animation Expert)
  • Erin Topfer  (Animation Expert)
  • Genevieve Stewart  (Animation Expert)
  • Jaime Garcia (Academic in Game Design and Development)
  • William Raffe (Academic in Game Design and Development)