A Review of Research on the Application of Digital Games in Foreign Language Education

A Review of Research on the Application of Digital Games in Foreign Language Education

Mark Peterson (Kyoto University, Japan), Jeremy White (Ritsumeikan University, Japan), Maryam Sadat Mirzaei (RIKEN AIP, Japan) and Qiao Wang (Kyoto University, Japan)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2591-3.ch004


The use of digital games represents an expanding domain in computer-assisted language learning (CALL) research. This chapter reviews the findings of 26 learner-based studies in this area that are informed by cognitive and social accounts of SLA. The analysis shows that massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) are the most frequently investigated game type and the majority of studies involved EFL learners in higher education. Mixed methods were the most frequent research tool utilized by researchers. Limitations of current research include the preponderance of small-scale experimental studies that investigated only a limited number of factors. Although the research is not conclusive, findings indicate that game play facilitates collaboration, the production of target language output, vocabulary learning, and reduces the influence of factors that inhibit learning. This chapter concludes by identifying promising areas for future research.
Chapter Preview


The dramatic growth of the internet and the proliferation of low-cost computing technologies have led to a significant expansion in research on many aspects of computer-assisted learning. Of the many aspects of this phenomenon currently under investigation, digital games are attracting increasing interest from education researchers (Ott, Stanescu, Popescu, & de Freitas, 2013). Although research in this area dates back over four decades, the pervasive nature of online gaming and the emergence of new and more accessible digital games are widely seen as significant phenomena that have stimulated a renewed focus on their use in education (Gee, 2007a; Whitton, 2010). A variety of commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) and serious games, that is, games designed for educational purposes, have been explored in a wide range of fields (Dondlinger, 2007). Recent large-scale meta-analysis of findings from studies on the use of contemporary digital games in education provide evidence suggesting that these games can support learning in certain learner groups (Clark, Tanner-Smith, & Killingsworth, 2016) and that their use appears, in the majority of studies, to facilitate knowledge acquisition across a number of domains (Connolly, Boyle, MacArthur, Hainey, & Boyle, 2012; Wouters, van Nimwegen, van Oostendorp, & van der Spek, 2013). However, although computer gaming is now ubiquitous, research on its use in language education remains limited (Peterson, 2013). Discussion of anecdotal and conceptual work abounds in the literature (Anderson, Reynolds, Yeh, & Huang, 2008; Li & Topolewski, 2002; Sykes, 2013). However, as has been noted (Cornillie, Thorne, & Desmet, 2012), there are fewer studies that report on learners’ game-based activities. Researchers emphasize that many aspects of the use of digital games as learning environments remain unexplored (Godwin-Jones, 2014). Nonetheless, in recent years, there has been renewed interest in this area and substantive studies involving a variety of COTS and serious games have been undertaken (Lai, Ni, & Zhao, 2012; Peterson, 2017). The following discussion identifies the key distinguishing features of digital games highlighted in the literature.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Commercial off-the-shelf game: A commercially produced digital game designed for entertainment.

Serious Game: A type of digital game designed specifically for educational purposes.

Adventure Game: A type of digital game where narrative is used to structure the game play. In this type of game, the individual player assumes the role of a protagonist in an interactive story.

Simulation Game: A type of digital game that presents the player with a simulation focused on a real-life scenario.

MMORPG: A type of network-based role-playing game that frequently incorporates a fantasy narrative.

Complete Chapter List

Search this Book: