Moving Towards an Ecological View of Second Language Learning in Multiplayer Online Games

Moving Towards an Ecological View of Second Language Learning in Multiplayer Online Games

Jinjing Zhao (Arizona State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-5140-9.ch019
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Massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs) are perceived to afford informal, contextualized L2 interaction. While earlier CALL research examined MMOGs as a tool for interaction and negotiation, more recent research is moving towards a game-as-ecology view, showing that L2 learning in MMOGs is a complex, interconnected, and dynamic process that is highly contingent on context. This chapter presents an ethnographic study of informal ESL learning mediated by multiplayer gameplay. Drawing on data from questionnaires, interviews, gaming sessions, and gaming journals, the author argues that L2 learners, when playing MMOGs at their own discretion, engage with those game discourses that align with their preferences of gameplay and goals of language learning. The study presented here adds to the growing evidence that affordances of MMOGs must be understood in relation to the learner's history, ability, and preference within the social context of gameplay. These components are interconnected and change dynamically in a coherent learning-gaming ecology.
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Research on digital game-based language learning and teaching has expanded greatly in recent years, as evidenced by a recent wave of journal special issues (Thomas, 2011; Cornillie, Thorne, & Desmet, 2012; Reinhardt & Sykes, 2014; Reinders & Chik, 2016) and edited volumes (Reinders, 2012). Among all types of digital games, massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs) have gained particular attention among computer-assisted language learning (CALL) researchers (e.g. Peterson, 2010, 2012; Rama, Black, van Es, & Warschauer, 2012; Rankin, Gold, & Gooch, 2006; Reinders & Wattana, 2014; Sholz, 2017; Sykes, Reinhardt, & Thorne, 2010; Thorne, 2008; Vosburg, 2017; Zheng, Newgarden, & Young, 2012). Because MMOGs allow players to cooperate and compete with each other on a large scale, even around the world, many CALL scholars are excited about its potential for informal, contextualized interaction in a learner’s target language, including interaction with native speakers (Peterson, 2010; Thorne, 2008; Zheng, Young, Wagner, & Brewer, 2009; Zheng, D., Newgarden, K., & Young, M., 2012).

While early research has shown MMOGs as a promising environment for L2 interaction, a few recent studies (Rama, P. S., Black, R. W., van Es, E., & Warschauer, M., 2012; Scholz, 2017; Vosburg, 2017; Zhao, 2016) illustrate the complexity of L2 learners' language use in MMOGs. These studies suggest that L2 learners approach MMOGs in various and unique ways, depending on the learner-player's interests, goals, language ability, gaming proficiency, as well as the interlocutors with whom the learner-player interact. Building on recent research on game-based language learning, this chapter presents an ecological perspective of MMOG-mediated L2 learning.

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