Commercial Games and the World Language Classroom
A few weeks ago, at CALICO (Computer-Assisted Language Instruction Consortium) 2016, Johnathon Beals, Phillip Cameron, Brenda Imber, and Val Waldron gave a workshop entitled, “Meaningful Play: Gamers as Teachers.” This workshop addressed how to appropriately integrate commercially available games into course content. According to Reneé Marshall, workshop attendee, the workshop showed “how games can thoughtfully be used in the language classroom…this workshop [was] fun, informative and practical.”
As part of the workshop, presenters covered the Taxonomy Alignment for Gaming (http://resources.alleninteractions.com/online/files/TAG/TAG_Poster.pdf) featured below.
This taxonomy alignment is particularly helpful for instructors trying to determine which games would be most appropriate to incorporate into the classroom. As one can see, vocabulary and grammar memorization games like Duolingo, the games that are most readily-available and content-specific, involve the lowest order of thinking skills and are not always the best games to use. While the games certainly make the sometimes arduous task of memorization more fun, they do not necessarily serve to develop a learner’s language proficiency.
The potential for a game to aid a learner in improving his or her target language proficiency increases as one moves up the taxonomy featured here. Let us consider as our example Plague Inc., a digital commercial game (http://www.ndemiccreations.com/en/22-plague-inc).
This game, a game in which the player pretends that he or she is the CEO of a company trying to develop a disease that will successfully infect the entire world, involves a great deal of strategy, and to a lesser extent, exploration. While these aren’t the highest levels of cognition featured on the Taxonomy, the game provides for a clear example of how one might incorporate commercial games into the classroom.
To begin gameplay, each player names his or her disease. After that, the player picks a country to infect with the disease first. Before selecting the country, the player is able to find out additional information (socioeconomic standing, climate, topography, and population density) about the country in question in order to inform his or her selection.
As the player plays and the disease begins to spread, the player earns DNA points that can be used to evolve the disease in order to adapt it to the new countries that it enters.
At any point, the player can see the overall progression of the disease and can monitor any research being undertaken in order to combat the disease. This information will inform subsequent decision making.
So why use a game like this?
The answer to this question is multi-faceted and related to the high levels of active cognition employed both during gameplay and in potential follow-up activities. At the most basic level, the visual design of games like this provide players with so much visual context that even novice learners are able to infer the meaning of many targeted vocabulary words. Additionally, commercial games like Plague Inc. allow learners to explore and evaluate such concepts as innovation, community, and internationalism. These concepts ignite student engagement given their cross-curricular relevance. Finally, these games can serve as an inciting incident of sorts to springboard further classroom communication and exploration that is both authentic and contextualized. Novice learners can create semantic maps with the knowledge that the acquire through gameplay, intermediate learners can practice summarizing major events through live tweeting gameplay, and advanced learners can engage in roleplay scenarios in which the imagine the conversations that characters in the game would have. It is important to note that any of these activities should be supplemented by additional classroom discussion and instruction. In essence, the game not only involves contextualized language interpretation, but it also inspires contextualized and authentic language output on both the individual and classroom levels.
If you are interested in checking out activities to supplement Plague Inc. and a variety of other commercial games, check out what we have created at https://games2teach.uoregon.edu/download/classroom-activities/.