Lesson Plan: Galatea (Upper-Intermediate)

Cover for Galatea by Emily Short

Game: Galatea by Emily Short (2000)

Level: Upper-Intermediate

Time needed to play: 45 – 60 minutes; Suggested pre-reading activity: 60 minutes

Lesson fit: It fits in nicely with the topics of ‘beauty’/’cosmetic surgery’ or ‘physical appearance’ – staples of Upper-Intermediate coursebooks; With regards to focus on form, it can also be tied to question forming and even reported speech/reported questions.

Game file:  – get the Galatea.zblorb file from the Interactive Fiction Database and Emily Short’s site. Download an interpreter to play it here.

Play online: at iplayif.com


Pre-reading task materials:

Worksheet with intro to ‘Pygmalion and Galtea’; ‘Pygmalion and Galatea’ difficult vocabulary list; List of song/paragraph titles

Adapted ‘Pygmalion and Galatea’ text (needs to be cut into paragraph strips)


Galatea hints/walkthroughs: WARNING – VIEW ONLY AFTER PLAYING A FEW TIMES! 



The next example of IF I’m going to focus on is very different from 9:05 and Lost Pig, and is one of the most lauded and original works to date. Emily Short’s Galatea is a landmark work of IF, not only because of its impressive technical implementation but also for its ability to create emotion and continued interest to interact on the part of the reader (even in those who are not interested in standard IF).

Galatea is loosely based on the Greek myth of ‘Pygmalion and Galatea’, which tells the story of a sculptor who creates and falls in love with the statue of a beautiful woman, later brought to life by the goddess Aphrodite. The object of this piece of IF is, as an art critic, to engage in conversation with this version of Galatea and to get her to discuss a wide variety of topics, leading to many different outcomes.

Galatea introductory screen

Although it uses the standard IF interface (the reader is presented with text and must reply with natural language commands at the > prompt), Galatea, contrary to most IF, is not really a game – in the sense that there is no actual specific goal, other than conversing with the statue using the ASK and TELL commands. Additionally, the events all take place in one room – there is no exploration or problem-solving involved, and many of the common commands implemented in IF games are not used (such as most action verbs, GET and INVENTORY). Because of its focus on conversation and not exploration, it bears a stronger likeness to classic chatterbot programs like ‘ELIZA’ (Weizenbaum, 1965) than to ‘Zork’. But it is exactly because it is a hybrid construct of traditional IF (a simulated world) and a conversation engine that makes it so refreshing to experience and makes it especially relevant to language learners. It simply has a more ‘human’ (or “inhuman”, as the case may be) aspect to it than what is found in most puzzle-based IF.


The conversational commands in Galatea (click to enlarge)


While narrative-focused IF often causes learners to lose interest after a while because of the continuous production of text and little interaction on part of the reader, Galatea, despite not having much of a game element (other than thinking about what to ask her), constantly rewards the reader with new responses and every play-through can lead to a radically different encounter. It is has been said that Galatea is the best non-player character (NPC) ever found in a video game, and I would have to agree. Galatea can give hundreds of different responses, allowing the conversation to reach over 70 different outcomes! In addition to the sheer number of possible exchanges available, these exchanges are internally tracked and are relevant to the final outcome – Galatea’s mood changes based on what she is asked and this has an effect on how she reacts and responds to the reader – and ultimately, leads towards one of the various endings (some of which can be considered ‘win’ states or ‘good’ endings, and others not so much). The VISORX command can be used to show statistics on the current topic of conversation and how Galatea is reacting to it – and it really is gratifying to see Galatea’s ‘sympathy’ and ‘tension’ values increase. In Galatea, the status line (found at the top of the screen), contrary to most IF games, which usually displays room information and some sort of score counter, initially merely displays ‘Back View’. This indicates Galatea’s interest level in what you are saying. As she warms to your conversation, Galatea might turn around in increments and finally face you, and if given a valid reason, even step off her pedestal.

For language learning purposes, it is a great tool for getting  students to think about how to keep a conversation going by picking up on cues left by the speaker. Narratologist Marie-Laure Ryan (2006) notes that this need to use key words from the current topic of conversation to lead into a new one respects philospher H. P. Grice’s ‘cooperation principle for conversation’:

“Make your conversational contribution as required, at the stage at which it occurs, by the accepted purpose or direction of the talk in which you are engaged” (Grice, 1975: 47).


Lesson plan

Pre-playing (work on the Pygmalion and Galatea text):

Because this particular IF game has some basis on an existing work of literature, presenting the original text can be an excellent way to introduce the game and build interest in playing it. I use the  ‘Pygmalion and Galatea’ text in the following way:

1. Name that tune (Ice-breaker/while waiting for late students to arrive)

A standard reading task at upper-intermediate level involves matching an appropriate title to each paragraph, requiring the ability to synthesise the main idea contained within it. To make it a bit more fun and personal, I’ve made it part of a short music quiz given at the very beginning of the lesson. This activity ties in with the ‘paragraph title matching’ activity, done at the end of the pre-playing phase.

I made up some paragraph titles which also exist as songs (eg. ‘Bring me to life’ by Evanescence). I have very eclectic (and for the most part, non-standard) musical tastes and a very large music collection, so these should be adapted to your own musical preferences – there are infinite possibilities.

The music quiz consists of playing about 30 seconds – 1 minute of each song (generally until the title has been mentioned in the chorus) and the students have to guess what the song is called. You can attribute extra points if they guess the name of the band.

The names of the songs (in the order in which they are played – and different from their order in the text) should be written on the board for later use.

      2. Prediction

The students are now shown the introductory text to ‘Pygmalion and Galatea’ and they have to predict what “man can never love an inanimate object with as much passion as he loves a living, breathing being “ refers to.

3. Difficult vocabulary clarification

This Worksheet contains a list of words that may be unfamiliar to learners at an upper-intermediate level. My suggested procedure for this text is to get the students to think about what part of speech each word is (adjective, verb, etc.) and then ask them for definitions. For the definitions they get wrong, ask them to keep an eye out for those words while they read the text and ask for a definition after they have read the whole text and re-ordered the paragraphs.

4. Reading / paragraph re-ordering

Having cut up the paragraphs from the Adapted ‘Pygmalion and Galatea’ text into strips beforehand, give out a set of the 7 strips to each pair of students and ask them to read them and re-order the text.


5. Reading Comprehension

Unlike most IF (Galatea NOT included, however), comprehension is not automatically tested when reading static text and so it may be a good idea to follow-up the re-ordering exercise with the discussion questions from the Worksheet.


6. Paragraph title matching

You can now bring the students’ attention back to the song titles written on the board. Ask them to give each paragraph one of the titles – this may seem a bit subjective with multiple answers, but the main topic of each paragraph and specific lines should make one specific title stand out.

Now that they’ve read about the characters of Galatea and Pygmalion, the students are ready to play some IF.

Before going to a computer room, present the commands used in the game on the board and show them the introduction. Examine the placard and have 1 or 2 exchanges with Galatea so students can see how to use the ASK and TELL commands.


Special Commands

It is important to bring to the student’s attention (even if they have prior experience playing IF) to the fact that Galatea does not use many of the commands traditionally associated with IF games (ie. action verbs, compass directions, inventory, etc.).

Typing ‘HELP’ will remind players of what kinds of commands are understood:

  • All the sensory ones (LOOK, LISTEN, SMELL, TOUCH, TASTE)
  • THINK and its companion THINK ABOUT, which will remind you of the state of conversation on a given topic.
  • RECAP gives a summary list of topics that you’ve discussed so far; if she’s told you that she’s said all she knows on that topic, it appears in italics.
  • ABBREVIATIONS: ‘Ask her about’ and ‘tell her about’ may be abbreviated to A and T.


A word about the level of the vocabulary used in the game – Galatea, like most IF, is a true authentic text. But not only is it authentic writing, it’s incredibly good writing! Emily Short has amazing literary perspective and each word she uses seems to have been chosen very carefully to convey it. The text, as a whole, is most appropriate for advanced level learners. However, it can still be enjoyed by upper-intermediate learners (I’ve tried it – it works very well). I mentioned before that most IF includes logical-puzzles that serve as a barrier – or a curtain – to progress. In order to progress through these narrative curtains, the player must, in essence, understand everything that has gone on before in the text in order to synthesize it and extract the necessary solution to opening a curtain and passing through it. Because Galatea does not have puzzles, there are no curtains to force the player to think about the meaning of every word and its importance in pushing the narrative forward – but  neither is this really necessary. Like a typical static text, in Galatea, every word does not need to be understood in order to continue through the conversations – it helps, but is not strictly necessary. Trying to list all the difficult words in Galatea would also be an unrealistic task because not only are there so many of them (which don’t really impede general understanding), but also because many of those words may never actually be encountered by students, given the multiple possible conversation threads and myriad pathways and endings available.

Because some vocabulary work has already been done in the pre-playing phase, I would say that no pre-clarification of vocabulary is necessary to interact with Galatea. However, to make the playing phase a vocabulary learning experience, I ask the students to write down any words they don’t understand as they play and I clarify them afterwards. However, if a student brings up a word which they believe is important to understanding the flow of the conversation, I tell them what it means on the spot.

While-playing (actually playing Galatea):

As always, I recommend putting the students into pairs so that they can provide scaffolding for each other’s learning as well as allowing for the potential noticing and acquisition of language through computer-mediated collaborative learning.

Load up the galatea.zblorb file on each computer if you already have Gargoyle installed, or ask the students to go to http://www.iplayif.com and type ‘galatea’ in the search bar. Tell them to choose the ‘Release 3’ version.

Introducing a ‘game’ element

After about 30 minutes of playing, some interest may begin to wane in the weaker/less-focused students. I’ve found that introducing a ‘game’ element at this point, where each pair needs to try to to drive the conversation towards a specific outcome, such as kissing Galatea, getting her to eat, or even getting yourself killed, can bring the interest level back up. A list of some (not nearly all) endings and walkthroughs to achieving them can be found here.

With regards to playing towards a specific goal, the author herself has the following to say:

“I’ve said it over and over: I don’t want people playing to particular endings. I want them to play the game and get whatever result comes naturally, because that is what the game is built for. It’s a dispenser of stories, customized to the individual who is playing at the moment”.

Despite this, she also concedes that there may be reasons to do so:

“That’s my vision as the author. Players, however, seem to have a different idea: a lot of them want to see all the text, or at least all the endings. And I have to admit that, while I hate to provide helps to that end (as the author), I can also see their point (as a player of other games)”.

I think that students should definitely play the game as intended by the author, at least for a while and until they have come across 2 or 3 different endings. However, there is no doubt that this procedure adds a sprinkle of competition to the proceedings and playing towards a specific goal makes students become more focused and motivated.

I gave out a slip of paper to each pair with a designated goal (kiss Galatea, get yourself killed, get Galatea to eat, etc.) and did this 2 or 3 times, until the designated computer slot time was up.

On the second or third ‘mission’, I would suggest giving the students a higher level of support by allowing them to track how Galatea is reacting to your questions and whether you are getting close to your goal by using the VISORX command.

The command TOPICLISTX can also be used to list all the topics in the game and the verbs that work with them, but I would only use this as a teacher to familarise myself with the different conversation threads, to give gentle nudges to students when needed.




Here are some possible follow-up tasks:

  • Writing:

As the art-critic, write a review of your encounter with Galatea.

As a reporter, writer an article about your conversation with Galatea, using reported questions and reported speech.

Write an essay on “what pieces of art could tell us they could speak”.

  • Speaking/Listening           

Do a role-play between Galatea and Pygmalion (before commiting suicide).

Do a role-play between the art critic and Pygmalion’s ghost

Do a role-play between a work of art and a critic/reporter/art lover

  • Grammar

Write the questions needed to address various topics found in the game (a script of the exchanges can be created with the SCRIPT command when using a software interpreter or by copying the text from the browser when using iplayif.com.

(eg. topic: food – Have you ever eaten? Would you like to eat?)


Student reactions

Of the three IF games documented on this blog thus far, Galatea has been able to keep students interested in playing the longest and has got the most students playing at home in their own free time. I think this is due to the following factors:

  • it has massive replay potential.
  • after learning the commands, it is very easy to get involved in the game and reaching different outcomes becomes addictive.
  • there is a certain sense of wonder in being able to ‘talk’ to a statue and having it reply with so much ‘humanity’. Galatea is genuinely an interesting person to talk to!
  • the absence of traditional IF puzzles and commands makes it extremely accessible to new players the absence of traditional IF puzzles makes it extremely accessible to students who don’t have strong problem-solving skills.
  • after learning about possible specific outcomes, everyone wants to get kiss from Galatea and watch her eat cheese.


Galatea is an incredible and unique example of IF, and boasts one of the most interesting NPCs ever to grace a video game. I think most students will enjoy it on some level, which makes it a must-play work of IF – in and out of the classroom.




About Joe Pereira

Joe Pereira is an English as a foreign language teacher in Portugal. He is interested in digital game-based learning, especially with Interactive Fiction.

Posted on May 20, 2012, in Interactive Fiction and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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