A Video Game, a Chinese Otaku, and Her Deep Learning of a Language

A Video Game, a Chinese Otaku, and Her Deep Learning of a Language

Kim Feldmesser (University of Brighton, UK)
Copyright: © 2009 |Pages: 29
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59904-808-6.ch025
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It is a buyers market for employers in todays global village, where having another language under your belt could make the difference at an interview between employment or the dole queue (unemployment line). Learning additional languages rapidly has been the goal of immersion schools, and their approaches are effective in many respects because they make use of situated learning experiences in communities of practice. Such experiences present their own challenges however, as living in the country of the chosen language for a considerable period of time may not be possible. Migrant workers too may be shunned by native speakers, particularly if they have little or no knowledge of the native language, reducing learning opportunities to engage in discourse. Video games may be one way to address these challenges. In order to do this, however, more must be understood about the ways in which games support these theories, the way individuals learning a second language interact with them, and what researchers and developers of serious games must know to support this use of games. This chapter will outline the relevant theories for second language learning, describe how they operate in games, and present guidelines for research and development of serious games and second language acquisition.
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Tell Me and I Will Forget

Show Me and I May Remember

Involve Me and I Will Understand

- Confucius 430BC

This is a longitudinal qualitative study of how a ‘virtual world’ of commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) video games was providing a safe space for an intermediate-level second language learner. The study investigates her ability to develop deep learning of English by engaging in extensive video game-play in the target language. Drawing on Vygotskian principles of research, which focus on the process and not the outcome of development, this small-scale research project explored, through interview, the process of learning to play Deus ExTM.

I chose the title of this project having read Tobin’s (1999) experiences with his son entitled An American Otaku. As the computer miniaturizes into ‘must-have’ fashion accessories such as mobile phones and handheld gaming devices, a new generation is buying into the cyber age. Tobin (1999) used it to describe his son’s fanaticism with the role-playing game Warhammer™ and his immersion into cyberculture at the beginning of the millennium. As a father of a teenager, he asks himself pertinent questions about the possible ramifications of using this new technology—such questions as whether a life on the Net can be satisfying, and whether his son’s self-confidence and the interpersonal skills he is developing through e-mail communications can translate into real life? Will he have ‘real’ (face-to-face) friends? Do otaku grow up to be happy, normal adults? The fixation on new technology that stigmatized otaku a decade ago is now in common use among teenagers growing up in technologically advanced societies that are rapidly being changed by the technology of the integrated circuit and the Internet. The title reflects how the subject, Zoe, a mainland-Chinese English Language student, was drawn in to extensive video game-play by effective game design despite the barrier of the second language. Like an otaku, she would spend many hours alone playing the video game Deus Ex on her laptop in the host family bedroom.

The Research

For the sake of brevity, the background to how the research was initially set up has not been included; the details of how the subject Zoe was found, the year-long platonic relationship of the author with the subject as a support tutor in her curriculum studies, and how, through many conversations about learning styles, she agreed to participate in this study have also been left out. Similarly, the ethical considerations that were taken into account prior to, during, and after the study have been edited, only including those areas which may impact on future research.

The Subject

‘Zoe’ is from China and in her early twenties. She has been studying in England for nearly three years. She remained with the same host family for this time. She came to the UK having completed her Chinese (full board) high school studies with the intention of improving her English sufficiently, so as to enter a UK university. She was preparing applications to universities during the time of this study. She proudly announced her Communist roots to me—that her father was a prominent member of the Party in her city and that she would need to undergo a re-education program on her return to China (in order to reintegrate with Chinese society), having completed her studies in the West. She was keen to study Japanese culture on her degree course (citing that “you should know your enemy better than your closest friend”) and looked forward to living as an exchange student with a Japanese host family for a year.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Committed Learning Principle: Learners participate in an extended engagement (a lot of effort and practice) as extensions of their real-world identities in relation to a virtual identity to which they feel some commitment and a virtual world that they find compelling.

Multiple Routes Principle: There are multiple ways to make progress or move ahead. This allows learners to make choices, rely on their own strengths and styles of learning and problem solving, while also exploring alternative styles.

Self-Knowledge Principle: The virtual world is constructed in such a way that learners learn not only about the domain, but about themselves and their current and potential capacities.

Probing Principle: Learning is a cycle of probing the world (doing something); reflecting in and on this action and, on this basis, forming a hypothesis; reprobing the world to test this hypothesis; and then accepting or rethinking the hypothesis.

Practice Principle: Learners get a lot of practice in a context where the practice is not boring (i.e., in a virtual world that is compelling to learners on their own terms and where the learners experience ongoing success). They spend a lot of time on task.

Intertextual Principle: The learner understands texts as a family (genre) of related texts and understands any one such text in relation to others in the family, but only after having achieved embodied understandings of some texts. Understanding a group of texts as a family (genre) of texts is a large part of what helps the learner make sense of such texts.

Semiotic Principle: Learning about and coming to appreciate interrelations within and across multiple sign systems (images, words, actions, symbols, artifacts, etc.), as a complex system is core to the learning experience.

Situated Meaning Principle: The meaning of signs (images, words, actions, symbols, artifacts, etc.) are situated in embodied experience. Meanings are not general or decontextualized. Whatever generality meanings come to have is discovered bottom up via embodied experiences.

Regime of Competence Principle: The learner gets ample opportunity to operate within, but at the outer edge of, his or her resources, so that at those points things are felt as challenging but not “undoable.”

Semiotic Domains Principle: Learning involves active and critical thinking about the relationships of the semiotic domain being learned to other semiotic domains.

Design Principle: Learning about and coming to appreciate design and design principles is core to the learning experience.

Text Principle: Texts are not understood purely verbally (i.e., only in terms of the definitions of the words in the text and their text-internal relationships to each other), but are understood in terms of embodied experiences. Learners move back and forth between texts and embodied experiences. More purely verbal understanding (reading texts apart from embodied action) comes only when learners have had enough embodied experience in the domain and ample experiences with similar texts.

Identity Principle: Learning involves taking on and playing with identities in such a way that the learner has real choices (in developing the virtual identity) and ample opportunity to meditate on the relationship between new identities and old ones. There is a tripartite play of identities as learners relate and reflect on their multiple real-world identities, a virtual identity, and a projective identity.

Psychosocial Moratorium Principle: Learners can take risks in a space where real-world consequences are lowered.

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