Which game should we play?

When thinking about game-enhanced L2 teaching, the first question that probably comes up is “which game should we play?”. A place to start is by becoming familiar with the distinctions among genres and types of the growing number of computer and video games that are commercially available. We think the genres with the most potential for L2TL are role-play, adventure, simulation, word, strategy, and action games. Genres like sports, dice, cards, music, and exercise games are perhaps less applicable, although they may not be out of the question if they involve language use. Role-play and adventure games tend to be more language-rich than other genres, notably for narrative and conversation, especially if they’re multiplayer. Adventure, simulation, and strategy games involve problem-solving and strategic decision-making, which can involve language use, and they often incorporate contextualized narratives for large amounts of vocabulary as well. Word games are probably relatively self-explanatory, although these games tend to be more traditional (e.g. scrabble or boggle) and have fewer narratives.

After choosing a game, the next step is to play the game and experience it from the dual perspective of the player-learner. Most every game has a tutorial setting you can go through at first, and usually in the first few levels of a game you are protected and supported with extra help and hints. Go through these tutorials slowly and reflectively. You will most likely notice that while you will use your L2 knowledge to figure out how to play the game, you will use also your knowledge of game playing to help you figure out some of the L2. In addition, you will notice differences in the L2 register of the rules, interface, and gameplay, and the L2 register of the narratives of the game content. The interaction of several kinds of knowledge are in operation here: your knowledge of how to play digital games and this genre of game in particular, domain knowledge about the fictional worlds of the game content, and the language registers involved in this knowledge, in your L1 and the L2. For example, let’s say you are learning Spanish and are going to play an adventure game called ‘Los Tesoros de la Isla del Misterio: Las Puertas del destino‘. You may be pretty good at action games, but have only a basic understanding of how to play adventure games, although you’re very familiar with stories about jungle explorers and anthropologists, since you’re an Indiana Jones fan. You’ve never played a video game in your L2, but have read some stories in your L2 set in jungle and museum settings. All of these will impact your experience playing and learning through the game.

The best way to gain an understanding of these phenomena is to experience them by playing various games and developing your own experiential insight. For the Games to Teach Project we will soon be producing a guide to game evaluation for game-enhanced L2TL using some of the insights that our own and others’ research provides on these issues.

– J. Reinhardt