Operation LAPIS is also an interactive adventure in which students perform their learning as an extraordinarily effective and engaging way to develop and assess their growing skills in the areas listed above. You can call it a game, if you like, and students tend to do so, but it’s also a story, and an ongoing collaborative performance. Whereas books like the ones listed above allow students to follow a story over the course of their Latin learning, Operation LAPIS allows them to play a story about ancient Rome, and, even more importantly, to integrate into their play-performances their growing skills in all the relevant domains. This is Latin-learning as experiential learning, project-based learning, and problem-based learning: students in Operation LAPIS learn Latin by playing Romans.
For example, instead of reading about how a famous Roman, as a young man, was present at an important battle, in Operation LAPIS students, collaborating in small teams, must perform as young Romans who are present at the battle of Cannae and later the sack of Carthage.
How does that work? Operation LAPIS uses some of the most important and compelling aspects of modern digital games–things like role-playing in an imaginary world, collecting, leveling, and questing–in the service of an adventure that has both a digital and a decidedly non-digital aspect.
This gets complicated, but the beauty of the concept is actually in its directness and basic simplicity: students in Operation LAPIS are recruited to save the world by learning Latin. You the instructor will play 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. You will “recruit” your students on the day you begin using Operation LAPIS, telling them that they have been selected to undertake this mission by entering into a text-based simulation of the ancient world in which they must find and decipher the LAPIS SAECULORUM.
You will tell them that they have been divided into teams, and that each team will control a young person of the gens Recentia in the ancient world, taking turns to make the final decision about 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 be able to shape.
You will finally tell them that in order to gain the skills they will need to find and decipher the LAPIS they will 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 will take their Recentii from Pompeii to Britain to Egypt, back to Britain, and finally to Rome itself. They will also be travelling 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 will 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 will 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.