Game Design Interaction in Digital Gameplay and Language Teaching and Learning

Game Design Interaction in Digital Gameplay and Language Teaching and Learning

Kayo Shintaku (University of Arizona, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-5140-9.ch022


Digital games have drawn attention as second and foreign language (L2) tools for providing pedagogical potentials such as authentic and meaningful language use and social learning. However, less research examines how a game design interacts with pedagogical mediation. Intermediate-level learners of Japanese (n = 9) played a vernacular game in Japanese using a vocabulary reference list and worksheets before, during, and after their gameplay. In-game vocabulary was identified as primary or secondary based on its functionality, and vocabulary pre-, post-, and delayed tests were given. Results showed good retention between the posttest and delayed test when both types of vocabulary were combined. When separated, the primary vocabulary was retained well, but the secondary vocabulary was not retained. This confirms that in-game vocabulary functionality impacts learning and implicates the careful design of supplemental materials to balance learning strategies and guide L2 learners' attention in using vernacular games.
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In the digital era, digital contents in various languages and cultures are relevant for online and offline life-worlds. One of the objectives of education, including second and foreign language teaching and learning (L2TL), is to prepare learners for lifelong learning experiences (Thorne, 2013). With ubiquitous connectivity and increased economic roles in a society, fast-paced technological development has changed modern media that are actively embedded in everyday lives (Waterman & Ji, 2012). These technological advances have shifted conventional learning environments, goals, assessments, and stakes (Ware & Hellmich, 2014), because the ways in which people engage with them entail learning and language use (Gillen, 2014). Kern (2000) argues for an expanded view of texts as written, oral, visual, and audio-visual forms, as digital technologies and media environment are altering our understanding of literacy and requiring new habits of mind, new ways of processing culture and interacting with the world (Jenkins, 2009, p. 33). Advanced development of technologies has lowered the boundaries of accessing languages and cultures through the Internet and introduces various alternatives and possibilities for learning that allow L2 learners to form their own legitimate experience of texts (Warner, 2014). Among various media types currently available, a digital game is one of the alternatives for a pedagogical tool. Digital gaming has been considered a form of participatory culture (Jenkins, 2009), and game players are considered prosumers (producer-consumer) (Armour, 2011). While consuming the product (game) and producing their experiences, game players are actively engaged and involved in gaming as literacy practice (Gee, 2007). Although digital gaming might be considered learning in the future (Steinkuehler & Squire, 2014) and is highly relevant to L2 use as a global phenomenon (Thorne & Reinhardt, 2008), game-mediated L2TL is not yet fully embraced in L2 classroom and curricular practices, for a variety of reasons (see deHaan, Reed, & Kuwada, 2010).

As digital games have increased in complexity, the pedagogical theories supporting their use and design as learning tools have become diverse (Rooney, 2012). However, according to Reinhardt and Sykes (2012), game-mediated L2TL can be divided into game-based (i.e., the creation and use of games designed specifically for L2TL purposes) or game-enhanced (i.e., the adaptation of vernacular games for L2TL). Digital games have drawn attention as a way of providing:

an authentic and engaging environment in which to develop critical 21st century skills such as problem-solving, decision-making, collaborative/social skills and so on. (Rooney, 2012, p. 43)

Among various game types and genres, massively multiplayer online games (MMOG) have received much attention, particularly for their social learning potential (e.g., Newgarden & Zheng, 2016; Peterson, 2011, 2016; Rama, Black, van Es, & Warschauer, 2012; Thorne, 2008; Zheng, Newgarden, & Young, 2012). As Bytheway (2014) notes, to play MMOGs is to belong, and the social aspect is one of the great benefits of MMOGs. However, playing the most popular MMOGs usually requires at least an intermediate linguistic proficiency level, because playing MMOGs allows for synchronous written and oral online communication with other game players (i.e., native and non-native speakers) for successful game completion. This is because in MMOG games such as World of Warcraft, interactions are not planned, but they dynamically emerge in the course of play (Newgarden & Zheng, 2016). In addition, there are unwritten norms and cultural rules relevant to each game community (Corneliussen & Rettberg, 2008; Bytheway, 2014). As such, playing MMOGs requires not only linguistic proficiency but also communicative competence (Peterson, 2011, 2012; Rama et al., 2012).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Game-Based L2TL: A pedagogical approach of second and foreign language teaching and learning that uses a digital game created specifically for L2TL purposes. Using an educational game for L2TL is included in this pedagogical category.

Personal Narratives: A game player’s story or interpretation of his or her gameplay experience. It varies by individual and can be affected by variables such as gaming experience, familiarity with the game topics, game typology, genres, play environment, and language proficiency (in the case of L2 learners).

Game-Enhanced L2TL: A pedagogical approach of second and foreign language teaching and learning that uses a digital game not created specifically for L2TL purposes. Usually commercial off-the-shelf games or vernacular games are adapted as a pedagogical tool.

Designed Narratives: Game elements, such as background fictional setting (game world), in-game characters, storylines, sound effects, and dialogues, which are designed by the game programmers and designers. A game player may still have a sense of illusionary agency while the player is following the predetermined routes.

Vernacular Game: A game that is commercially available and is not made for any specific educational purposes. Platforms and formats vary (e.g., download, disc, browser-based, and console).

Computer-Assisted Language Learning (CALL): A pedagogical approach in L2TL that uses a computer as a tool to support and mediate teaching and learning. It is a general term that includes a wide range of learning styles and settings such as online or offline, 3D or 2D environment, mobile or fixed, and digital devices.

Game-Mediated Second and Foreign Language Teaching and Learning (L2TL): A general term for second and foreign language teaching and learning that uses a digital game (regardless of game type) as a pedagogical tool. It is also an inclusive term for game-based L2TL and game-enhanced L2TL.

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