The Foreign Language Learning Potential of Video Games: FL Games as Cross-Cultural Texts, Narratives, and Artifacts

The Foreign Language Learning Potential of Video Games: FL Games as Cross-Cultural Texts, Narratives, and Artifacts

Karim Hesham Shaker Ibrahim (Miami University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-5463-9.ch009

Abstract

Recently video/digital games have grown into ubiquitous problem-solving activities and social practices that engage a fast-growing number of foreign language (FL) learners. And despite the fast growth of the gaming industry, most of the industry is based in North America, and most commercial video games are available primarily in a few Western or Asian languages. As a result, tens of thousands of gamers worldwide play commercial video games in a foreign language due to the immersive, engaging, and entertaining experience that these games offer. In addition to the recreational appeal of digital games, various studies in the field of computer-assisted language learning (CALL) have demonstrated the potential of digital gaming to promote FL use and learning. Therefore, this chapter proposes the use of commercial English video games as intercultural texts, narratives, and cultural products to promote FL learning.
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Introduction

Video/digital games have grown into sophisticated and engaging problem-solving activities that have their own literacy practices, affinity spaces, and online virtual communities (e.g. Gee, 2004). To elaborate, modern video games have developed in content and design as dynamic multimodal texts (Apperley & Beavis, 2011) that situate gameplay in sophisticated narratives, realistic graphics, and rich linguistic content. They typically use this linguistic content as in-game discourse to communicate their rules to players, and situate these discourse in the embodied context of gameplay (Gee, 2004). Besides using language to communicate their rules, most online games offer communication channels to facilitate collaborative interaction between players from all over the world in multiplayer gaming (Zheng, Newgarden, & Young, 2012). Also, the increasing popularity of video games worldwide has created cross-cultural online gaming communities that have their own literacy practices, and that generate thousands of game-related texts in the form of strategy guides, fan-fiction, and game reviews. In addition, video games can be viewed as cultural products that reflect the cultural values and practice of their designers and the literacy practices of the activities they simulate (Reinhardt, 2012). As a result, various studies have examined the potential of digital games to promote FL learning and literacy. The findings of these studies suggest that digital games could promote intercultural and multilingual communication (e.g. Newgarden & Zheng, 2016), collaborative social interaction (e.g. Peterson, 2012), FL literacy development (e.g. Benson & Chik, 2010), and situated FL use and socialization (e.g. Zheng, Young, Wagner, & Brewer, 2009a).

Besides demonstrating the strong FL learning potential of digital games for FL, the literature has also demonstrated that a large number of FL learners engage in FL digital gaming activities, and that FL gaming can involve active FL use to manage and/or coordinate gameplay. For instance, in a qualitative study, Piirainen-Marsh and Tainio (2009) investigated the interaction between two ESL Finnish players in the course of playing the role-playing game Final Fantasy X (Square Enix, 2001), and found that the players attended to, capitalized on, and appropriated in-game FL discourse to express their engagement with the game and competence in managing gameplay. Also, in another qualitative study, Chick (2011) investigated FL use and learning in the out-of-class gaming practices of ten EFL Chinese gamers, and found that gameplay offered participants the autonomy to practice English to manage gameplay. In light of these findings, video games can be viewed as cross-cultural artifacts that engage an increasing number of FL learners in extended, immersive, and purposeful, FL use; and thus, can offer valuable opportunities for FL learning. This chapter will focus on harnessing the potential of video games as class as cross-cultural FL texts (e.g. Benson & Chik, 2010), narratives (e.g. Calleja, 2007), and cultural products (e.g. Reinhardt, 2012) to promote FL practice and learning.

This chapter will open with a review of the literature on game-based FL learning to demonstrate the learning potential of digital games. Then, video games will be conceptualized as cross-cultural texts, narratives, and artifacts. After that different approaches to integrating digital-games, as cross-cultural texts, narratives, and artifacts in FL learning classrooms, will be discussed and illustrated with examples. Finally, the chapter will close with a discussion of guidelines for selecting commercial video games for instructional purposes.

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