3D Role-Playing Games as Language Learning Tools | English As A Second Or Foreign Language | Second Language Acquisition

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EUROGRAPHICS 2006 / E. Gröller and L. Szirmay-Kalos (Guest Editors) Volume 25 (2006), Number 3 3D Role-Playing Games as Language Learning Tools Y. Rankin1 , R. Gold2 , and B. Gooch1 1 Northwestern 2 Brown University, Evanston, IL, USA University, Providence, Rhode Island,USA Abstract Leveraging the experiential cognition and motivational factors of 3D games, we conduct a pilot study that utilizes Ever Quest 2 as pedagogical learning tool for English as a second language (ESL) students. We co
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  EUROGRAPHICS 2006 / E. Gröller and L. Szirmay-Kalos(Guest Editors) Volume 25 ( 2006  ), Number 3 3D Role-Playing Games as Language Learning Tools Y.Rankin 1 , R. Gold 2 , and B. Gooch 1 1 Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA 2 Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island,USA Abstract  Leveraging the experiential cognition and motivational factors of 3D games, we conduct a pilot study that utilizes Ever Quest 2 as pedagogical learning tool for English as a second language (ESL) students. We combine the ben-efits of massive multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) and second language methodology to createa digital learning environment for second language acquisition (SLA). Rather than using traditional computer-assisted language learning (CALL) software, we explore the immersive, virtual environment of  Ever Quest 2 as ESL participants assume virtual identities and engage in social interactions within the game world. We suggest that language becomes a crucial artifact for character development and completion of game tasks in the virtualworld. Preliminary results demonstrate that  Ever Quest 2 intermediate and advanced ESL students increase their  English vocabulary by 40% as result of game play interactions with non-playing characters (NPCs). Furthermore,intermediate and advanced ESL students practice their conversational skills with playing characters (PCs), gen-erating a 100% increase in chat messages during eight sessions of game play. These results lead to the conclusionthat MMORPGs can provide motivation and adequate language learning support for intermediate and advanced  ESL students. Categories and Subject Descriptors (according to ACM CCS) :CCScatK.3.1Computer Uses in Education, Computer Aided Instruction 1. Introduction Though video games have been criticized as being mind-less entertainment with no educational value or content, Gee[Gee03, Gee04]and others argue that video games modeleffective learning practices[BDM05,Gee03,Gee04,Kos05,Mai02, Pre01]. Game play experiences foster learning inthe virtual world as players accomplish game tasks. Pillayet al. [PBW99] support the theory that recreational videogames engage players in complex cognitive processes thatare employed in problem-solving tasks. Thus, video gamesincrease players’ cognitive abilities which transfer to learn-ing in the real world[BDM05,Gee03,Gee04,Kos05,Nor93, Pre01,PBW99]. Game designers utilize motivation to entice players to nu-merous hours of game play [FSH04]. Players attribute suc-cessful game play to the following components:1. freedom to explore an immersive, virtual environmentthat adapts to player’s skills2. clear goals and objectives that determine game progres-sion3. resources that enable players to complete game tasks4. and visually displayed feedback (e.g. level of difficulty)that informs players’ decisions and outcomes[BDM05,FSH04].The components of game play are ideal for creating ef-fective digital learning environments. If we replace player with student, then we have the model for the active,constructive learner [BDM05,Gee03,Gee04,Kos05,Pia70].Learning is an active, personal experience that allows thestudent to reflect on what they know (e.g. beliefs, ideas, mis-conceptions, etc.) and how this knowledge shapes their un-derstanding of the world and sense of self [Pia70]. Game-based learning refers to embedded instructional content invideo games [BDM05,Gee03,Gee04]. Though video gamesprovide motivation for learning, game-based learning doesnot necessarily result in positive learning outcomes. Re-search shows that embedded instructional content does notnecessarily lead to positive learning outcomes[EAB02]. In c  The Eurographics Association and Blackwell Publishing 2006. Published by BlackwellPublishing, 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK and 350 Main Street, Malden,MA 02148, USA.  Y. Rankin, R. Gold & B. Gooch / 3D Role-Playing Games as Language Learning Tools contrast, game informed learning uses game play compo-nentstofacilitatelearningprocess.Game-informedpracticesgive students an opportunity to learn concepts in a situatedmanner. For example, students who play video sports games(i.e. football) learn about the rules of the game and the socialpractices (e.g. huddle to discuss strategy) associated with thegame. Rather than evaluating computer games for their edu-cational content, Gee recommends emulating the character-istics of games for traditional and informal learning environ-ments. Our research examines the novel application of role-playinggamesthatsupportlearning.Usingasubsetofgame-informed practices, we conduct a pilot study using the Mas-sive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG)  Ever Quest 2 for second language acquisition. 2. Motivation MMORPGs supply a social infrastructure that permits like-minded game players to form groups as evident in multi-ple user dungeons (MUDs) and other role-playing games[HB02]. The social practices that exist in MMORPGs modelcultural norms that are emphasized in game playing activi-ties and define the community of players [LW91]. In a simi-lar manner, second language teaching methodology encour-agesforeignlanguagestudentstoparticipateinculturalprac-ticesassociatedwiththetargetlanguage[Kra91].Asaresult,students develop proficiency in the target language as theycommunicate with native speakers. Video games representcomputer-based, highly participatory, multi-media environ-ments that engulf the player in a virtual world that appears tobe real[FM95,Pan93,Sch02]. Therefore, video games can close the distance between foreign language students andcontact with native speakers [Sch02].Research shows that second language students interactmore in virtual chat rooms and online discussions, suggest-ing that virtual environments create non-threatening learn-ing environments[Bea92,Bea97,BE96,CO93,HB02,PW02, War96]. Additionally, online chat rooms promote a demo-cratic learning environment that is conducive to both in-troverted and extroverted learners, evolving into learner-centered environments in which students of different lan-guage levels accept more of the responsibility for develop-ing target language proficiency[Bea92,Bea97,BE96,CO93,HB02,Kel92,Ker95,PW02,War96]. MMORPGs supply authentic environments for learning,complete with sufficient opportunities for students to prac-tice, develop and test their emergent communicative abili-ties. The practice of producing language that is evaluated formeaning by other role-playing characters constitutes authen-tic dialogue between native and non-native language speak-ers. Furthermore, computer games emulate the experientialapproach of second language acquisition by providing animmersive learning experience. Moreover, text is displayedon the screen, giving visual cues to determine context of meaning and language content as well as identification of second language vocabulary. Thus, language becomes a nec-essary artifact of successful game play. MMORPGs are de-signedtocreateandsupportsocialnetworksofgamers.Pow-erful alliances play a key factor in gamers’ abilities to defeatenemies and accomplish tasks that are virtually impossibleto perform alone. MMORPGs sustain social interaction be-tweenplayersandserveasthecatalystforfosteringstudents’grammatical and conversational competence as students chatin a foreign language while playing the game. Social in-teraction is a prerequisite to students’ language proficiency.Without social interaction, students lack motivation, oppor-tunities for practicing target language skills, and immediatefeedback; all three components are crucial if students desireto increase their communicative abilities in the target lan-guage. Online role-playing games are transformed into com-puter assisted language learning tools for successful secondlanguage acquisition for novice, intermediate and advancelanguage students [BDM05, Gee03, Gee04]. For these rea-sons, we believe that MMORPGs create an ideal learningenvironment for language students. Leveraging the sophisti-catedgraphicsandestablishedcustomerbaseofSonyOnlineEntertainment (SOE) and Microsoft Corporation, we inves-tigate the novel application of MMORPG Ever Quest 2 . 3. Online entertainment Ever Quest II  Ever Quest 2 is a MMORPG, created and produced by SOE,that is set 500 years after the srcinal Ever Quest  game. Ever Quest 2 supports authentic multimodal interactions using vi-sual images, displayed texts and aural inputs for computergenerated avatars. Prior to playing the game, players select acharacter from 16 species (e.g. dwarfs, barbarians, frogloks,etc.) 24 professions (e.g. assassins, berserkers, paladins,etc.), and 4 classes (e.g. mage, scout, fighter, and priest)with each species and class having specific strengths andweaknesses. Typical of role-playing games, players investemotionally in successful character development of their vir-tual identity[Tur95]. For example, if the player selects theprofession Paladin from the species of frogloks who areideal members of the fighter class, then the player is repre-sented as an amphibious avatar, short in height and possess-ing high intellect, agility and upper body strength. See figure1. Frogloks are inherently noble and good, serving as valiantfighters while protecting their cohorts from danger. Threedimensional graphics depict the vast terrain of the virtualworld of Norrath. Gamers interact playing characters (PCs),non-playing characters (NPCs), and objects labeled on thescreen. NPCs do not accept or complete quests; they shareinformation about quests and other characters with PCs. Incontrast, PCs accept quests, engage in combat, and becomefriends or make enemies. Players advance from one level toanother as they successfully complete challenges/quests anddefeat powerful enemies. MMORPGs include infrastructurefor virtual social interactions, players chat with one another,discuss game strategies and form alliances. c  The Eurographics Association and Blackwell Publishing 2006.  Y. Rankin, R. Gold & B. Gooch / 3D Role-Playing Games as Language Learning Tools Figure 1: Role play as a Ever Quest 2 froglok character. 4. Methods The purpose of this study is to identify the appropriate ped-agogical strategy that enables us to leverage the benefits of gaming. Our research attempts to answer the following ques-tions: ã As a result of game play, does Ever Quest 2 increase ESLstudents’English proficiency and if so, how? ã Does Ever Quest 2 provide adequate language learningsupport for ESL students of various backgrounds? ã What improvements or additional tools are required totransform MMORPGs into second language learningtools?Initially five ESL students, ranging from high-level be-ginner to advance as defined by the Basic English Skills Test(BEST) assessment, participated in the pilot study. Partic-ipants completed a pre-game questionnaire that identifiedtheir native language and evaluated their computer literacyskills, experience playing games, and their confidence levelin their ESL communication skills. Students were requiredto spend a minimum of 4 hours per week for duration of 4weeks and played the game in groups of two. In addition,we kept a diary of observations per session and periodicallyqueried participants for feedback about their game play ex-periences. The first week was comprised of tutorial sessionscomplete with documentation of game instructions, expla-nation of species, classes and professions of characters, andon-site assistance for exploring the virtual world of Norrath.We compiled a list of game play instructions along with aseparate list of new vocabulary words and gave them to eachparticipant. We reviewed the instructions for game play (e.g.explanation of inventory, examining objects, chatting, etc.)and asked each participant to demonstrate different gamecontrol actions. Each participant proceeded to accept theirfirst quest, to develop the game character’s combat skills.ESL students were encouraged to participate in combat aslong as they wished and were eventually instructed to accepta second quest of their choosing. One student withdrew fromthe study due to inability to meet time commitments. Thus,data files consisting of game play activity and chat interac-tions were collected for 4 players, including eighteen hoursof data per student.After four weeks of game play, participants completed apost-game questionnaire. Using Perl scripts as natural lan-gauge processing tools, we analyzed the data files for wordfrequency count for interactions with NPCs. Subsequently,we gave each ESL student a vocabulary assessment basedupon each individual’s game log files. Vocabulary wordswere randomly selected from each student’s data files. Wealso analyzed the number of chat messages generated byeach participant to measure the level of comfort and the de-gree of social interactions with other playing characters. 5. Data analysis and discussion As a result of the pilot study, we have developed an appreci-ation for the complexity of using games for second languageacquisition. Because all four students indicated on the post-game questionnaire and during the wrap-up interview that  Ever Quest 2 improved their English vocabulary skills, wedecided to test each participants’ acquisition of vocabularywords based on two factors: 1) vocabulary that was docu-mented in each individual’s game log activities and intro-duced during interactions with NPCs and 2) word frequencycounts for each vocabulary word used by NPCs. To mea-sure learning outcomes, we compared students’ understand-ing of vocabulary words that were used once in conversationwith vocabulary words that were used more than five timesin NPCs’ dialogue. All four participants accurately defined35% or more of the vocabulary words that were introducedonly once in conversations with NPCs. In comparison, par-ticipants achieved 55% or higher accuracy for words thatwere used more than five times during social interactionswith NPCs. This suggests that the more NPCs model ap-propriate use of vocabulary words, the more ESL studentsdevelop the appropriate meaning in English. See figure 1. Figure 2: ESL students’ vocabulary results. The advanced ESL students expressed greater confidencein their English reading, writing and conversational skills c  The Eurographics Association and Blackwell Publishing 2006.  Y. Rankin, R. Gold & B. Gooch / 3D Role-Playing Games as Language Learning Tools than their counterparts, generating 6 times more chat mes-sages than the high-level beginner and 2.5 times more chatmessages than the intermediate student. One student in par-ticular generated an average of 60% more messages than anyother participant. This same student exhibited a positive per-ception of the game’s ability to assist with ESL acquisitionand recommended Ever Quest 2 as a pedagogical tool forESL students. We offer that this student perceived the gamein a positive manner despite her lack of experience playingcomputer games and took advantage of the faceless interac-tions to initiate questions with players outside of her groupwhen she needed assistance. As suspected, the high-level be-ginner ESL student indicated low confidence level for En-glish reading, generating an average of three chat messagesper session. See figure 2. Figure 3: Number of generated chat messages per ESL stu-dent. The ESL students in the study demonstrated diversity incomputer literacy skills and ESL proficiency but all four hadlimited experience playing video games. Exposure to videogames reduces the learning curve associated with manipulat-ing game controls to navigate the virtual environment whilelack of experience playing video games can oftentimes leadto frustrating game play experiences coupled with the task of comprehending visual, textual and aural information inthe target language. One participant wrote, This is hard, in her chat window during the first week of the pilot studywhereas an advanced ESL student gave feedback that aftershe became familiar with game controls (i.e. arrow keys),she thought the game was fun.As mentioned earlier, the diverse backgrounds in theparticipants’ ESL communicative abilities produces thedilemma of determining how well suited Ever Quest 2 isfor ESL students of various levels. However, the ESL stu-dent who was on the border between high-level beginner andlow-intermediate experienced difficulty with adapting to thevirtual environment. This leads to the conclusion that Ever Quest 2 fails to provide adequate supports (e.g. dictionaryfor translation) for even high-level beginner ESL students;this leads to cognitive overload as the participant attemptedto balancegameplaynavigation, comprehensionofinforma-tion displayed on screen and the use of a handheld dictionaryfor unfamiliar vocabulary. While the students were not dis-couraged from using dictionaries, only the high-level begin-ner repeatedly brought and used her dictionary during eachgame play session. This would enable us to determine theminimum proficiency level for participation in subsequentgame studies. Pilot study results indicate that one student inparticular generated 31% more messages than her advancedESL peer, 73% more messages than the intermediate par-ticipant and 89% more messages than the beginner ESL stu-dent.Thissamestudentexhibitedapositiveperceptionofthegame’s ability to assist with ESL acquisition, specifically inthe areas of vocabulary, reading comprehension and conver-sational skills. The different ESL proficiency levels easilysuggest that each participant brings different learning needstothegameworldof   EverQuest2 ,avirtualenvironmentthatmay lack the flexibility to support the needs of varying lev-els of ESL students. We realize that if the ESL student is tobenefit from the immersive environment represented in role-playing games, the participant should possess a minimum of intermediate level knowledge of the English language.Students offered suggestions to improve the languagelearning environment. Prior to level seven, NPC interac-tions included few aural outputs. As two of the subjects pro-gressed to more advanced game levels (e.g. level 10) andproceeded to leave the Isle of Refuge, students expressedtheir appreciation for additional aural outputs for some of the NPCs that inhabit Qeynos. Students suggested that audiobe included for all NPCs as this would help them to learnthepronunciationofnewwords.Multi-modalinputsarevitalto students’ ability to develop oral proficiency in the targetlanguage. We suspect that ESL students would experiencegreater learning outcomes if such built-in language supportswere readily available during the game. As it stands now,participants rely on the feedback of other PCs as a means forself-reflection. We propose that ESL students who are notco-located may participate in more online discussions andhopefully improve their conversational skills. Thus, we arecompelledtoimproveuponthedesignofvideogamesaslan-guage learning tools and continue our efforts to collect dataas ESL students communicate and live in the virtual worldof Norrath. 6. Conclusion As with the use of any technology for educational purposes,video games can be a blessing and a curse. Rather thanblindly assuming that the benefits of games will transfer tolearning in any domain for students of various backgrounds,both educators and designers of instructional technologymust develop appropriate methodology for evaluating gamesas learning artifacts. We have proposed a methodology thatevaluates MMORPGs as pedagogical tools for second lan-guage acquisition. Using Natural Language Processing tools c  The Eurographics Association and Blackwell Publishing 2006.
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