Cinematic games, with a high emphasis on communication, contain many opportunities to reinforce a variety of grammatical forms and to explore new vocabulary through listening and reading comprehension, lexical expansion and problem solving. Each main chapter in the Assassin’s Creed series (Ubisoft), with its outstanding recreation of everyday life and culture of the specific era and geographical areas in which they are set, allows educators like me, in languages and cultures, but also in other fields such as architecture and the social sciences, to explore several aspects of life first-hand in those times and places in dynamic, immersive and interactive ways.
The Assassin’s Creed series is the perfect example of effective, high-quality localization in multiple languages. Dubbing, subtitles and menus have been effectively localized in all languages that I know well and use regularly (Italian, English, French, Spanish), besides many others upon which I cannot comment. Another excellent example of high-quality game localization is provided by Quantic Dream in their games Heavy Rain, Beyond: Two Souls and the recently-released Detroit: Become Human. The 2013 and 2016 Tomb Raider games by Square-Enix also embody excellent examples of game localization in multiple languages.
An important limitation that I currently see, is that not all games are fully localized as I feel they should be. Full localization is an investment that I believe all companies should make. The interest that my research and teaching practices have generated (as of today, they have been mentioned in ninety news sources of various kinds for general audiences, educators and gamers all over the world) show that there currently is high interest in video games as learning devices for foreign languages and cultures.
Another limitation that I currently see is lip-syncing. Most cinematic games appear to have been created with lip-syncing designed for the English language. Observation of lip movements assists in listening comprehension. This is an important limitation until more games are created (or adapted) specifically for other markets. That said, in all cinematic games, co-speech gestures, another essential component of communication and foreign language acquisition, are excellent, and definitely provide a visual aid that enhances overall student comprehension. Although most games are currently produced with English, or, in some cases, Japanese as the main in-game language, cinematic games are, in my view, still very usable and beneficial for the acquisition of languages other than English. However, they become an outstanding tool for English as a Second Language (ESL) and Japanese language instruction.
I believe that the next frontier of localization will be the localization of lip-syncing also. The market of commercially-available games as foreign language learning devices may be exploding soon, as I am inclined to believe given the positive response I received regarding my research and teaching. This spring semester I was on sabbatical in Europe, and while delivering presentations and workshops at a number of European institutions, I met a number of young men and women who instantly connected with what I was talking to them about, games as foreign language tools, because those kids had experienced exactly the same: they noticed that their foreign language skills improved rapidly while playing video games.
Image: Intensive Italian for Gamers at SLU – Spring 2017