Volume 3 [Issue 1], 2011


Editorial: Digital games and second language acquisition in Asia

Michael Thomas


Following technological advances in hardware and the emergence of the World Wide Web, interest in commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) digital games has increased dramatically. In addition to their popularity in the entertainment sector, digital games are becoming important in a range of other sectors, from the military and medicine to business and education. In an educational context digital games and simulations underline the importance of an immersive experience. They provide opportunities for the replication of authentic environments, social collaboration and learner participation. On another level, advocates of digital gaming also tap into a wider anti-school discourse in which traditional education is seen to inhibit experiential learning and to lead to learner disengagement and underachievement.

Learn English or die: The effects of digital games on interaction and willingness to communicate in a foreign language

Hayo Reinders and Sorada Wattana


recent years there has been a lot of interest in the potential role of digital games in language education. Playing digital games is said to be motivating to students and to benefit the development of social skills, such as collaboration, and metacognitive skills such as planning and organisation. An important potential benefit is also that digital games encourage the use of the target language in a non-threatening environment. Willingness to communicate has been shown to affect second language acquisition in a number of ways and it is therefore important to investigate if there is a connection between playing games and learners’ interaction in the target language. In this article we report on the results of a pilot study that investigated the effects of playing an online multiplayer game on the quantity and quality of second language interaction in the game and on participants’ willingness to communicate in the target language. We will show that digital games can indeed affect second language interaction patterns and contribute to second language acquisition, but that this depends, like in all other teaching and learning environments, on careful pedagogic planning of the activity.

Learner autonomy development through digital gameplay

Alice Chik


Playing digital games is undeniably a popular leisure activity, and digital gaming is also gaining academic attention and recognition for enhancing digital literacies and learning motivation. One tricky issue when exploring digital gaming in Asian contexts is the popularity of English and Japanese games. Though Chinese and Korean online games are readily available, many of the more popular commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) digital games are in English and Japanese. Students in Hong Kong are required to take English as a foreign language, which resulted in a huge range of proficiency, but Japanese is not offered at public schools. So, most Hong Kong gamers are playing foreign language games. Yet language barriers do not diminish the market demand for foreign language digital games. This paper explores the phenomenon of digital gaming in foreign languages. Based on findings from an on-going research project with ten undergraduate video gamers (F=4, M=6), this paper argues that gamers exercise learner autonomy by managing their gaming both as leisure and learning experiences.


Teaching and learning English through digital game projects

Jonathan deHaan


Digital games are receiving increasing attention by researchers and practitioners in education; however, most of the theory and pedagogy focus on general education or language and literacy development of native speakers. There are very few investigations of game play or game culture and second language development. Language teachers and institutions must know more about games to use the media effectively. Two completed extracurricular projects, based on constructionist learning and media literacy theories and practices, are described in this paper: game design and game magazine creation. The action research projects aimed to guide students towards a better understanding of games' formal features and technologies through their active creation of games and game-related media, and to improve their spoken and written English language skills. In general, students learned and practised a variety of language and technology skills with the design projects. The projects motivated the students, challenged the students, and provided many opportunities for authentic discussions in the foreign language. Various suggestions, based on the teacher and student experiences of these projects, are made for other language teachers interested in conducting creative game-based projects with their students.

Digital gaming and second language development: Japanese learners interactions in a MMORPG

Mark Peterson


Massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) are identified as valuable arenas for language learning, as they provide access to contexts and types of interaction that are held to be beneficial in second language acquisition research. This paper will describe the development and key features of these games, and explore claims made regarding their value as environments for language learning. The discussion will then examine current research. This is followed by an analysis of the findings from an experimental qualitative study that investigates the interaction and attitudes of Japanese English as a foreign language learners who participated in MMORPG-based game play. The analysis draws attention to the challenging nature of the communication environment and the need for learner training. The findings indicate that system management issues, proficiency levels, the operation of affective factors, and prior gaming experiences appeared to influence participation. The data shows that for the intermediate learners who were novice users, the interplay of these factors appeared to restrict opportunities to engage in beneficial forms of interaction. In a positive finding, it was found that the intermediate and advanced level participants effectively utilized both adaptive and transfer discourse management strategies. Analysis reveals they took the lead in managing their discourse, and actively engaged in collaborative social interaction involving dialog in the target language. Participant feedback suggests that real time computer-based nature of the interaction provided benefits. These include access to an engaging social context, enjoyment, exposure to new vocabulary, reduced anxiety, and valuable opportunities to practice using a foreign language. This paper concludes by identifying areas of interest for future research.

Book Review: Nicola Whitton’s (2010). Learning with digital games: A practical guide to engaging students in Higher Education. London: Routledge

Darren Elliott


Gaming is a multi-million dollar industry with ever growing participation rates, cultural reach and sophistication. Many students entering higher education now are likely to have experience playing digital games. Academics who grew up in the 1980s and 1990s will have grown up in a world of Atari, Jet Set Willy and Super Mario. Whitton persuasively suggests that it is time to use what we know in the classroom. As a self-confessed gamer, Nicola Whitton approaches the topic with a thorough understanding of what makes good play, and as a researcher in the field of education she appreciates what makes good learning. These two concepts run through the book from beginning to end, and make it an ideal introduction to anyone with an interest in using games to teach and learn.