In my research and teaching practices with video-game based learning I have identified a number of cinematic games that are currently on the market that I believe are ideal for foreign language learning. They all feature appealing, complex narratives, possess a task-based, problem-solving orientation, and present full voice-acted conversations between characters. These are all features that aid in stimulating learning and organizing group interactions in the language classroom setting. In my experience, they can also be successfully used for autonomous learning by second/foreign language students, starting from the ACTFL Novice-Mid level (which roughly corresponds to two semesters of foreign language in college, or two years in high-school).
This blog post focuses on games which I have personally used in the foreign language classroom. The games are multi-lingual, meaning that they have been localized in a fairly large number of languages (including Italian, which is my professional focus). These games go above and beyond the “usual” English, Spanish and French, which is the norm for games sold in North-America and, often, Europe. These are all games for mature teens and above,
Since the early 2000s, engaging, fully voice-acted narratives have become the hallmark of interactive digital stories in commercial video games. All the main games in the Assassin’s Creed (AC) series by Ubisoft lend themselves very well to game-based activities in second/foreign language & culture courses. The first game in the series, AC: Altair’s Chronicles (2008), took full advantage of technical advancements afforded by the new, at the time, generation of consoles (PlayStation (PS) 3, Xbox 360 and more powerful Windows PCs), presented players with a historical fiction that unfolded in an action-adventure, open world video game. The success was such that the game turned into a series, which at presents counts nine episodes plus a number of supporting “side stories,” each set in different eras and regions of the world. Other recent incarnations of game series that began in the late 1990s such as Tomb Raider have also recently evolved into full voice-acted, complex narratives.
Among the current or recent games, those that represent the best fully interactive, multi-media digital narrative “anime cinematic games” for foreign language & culture courses (senior year of high-school and college) are:
– Heavy Rain; Beyond: Two Souls (known in Italy as Beyond: Due anime) (respectively, 2010 and 2013 for the PS3, and 2016 for the PS4 version); and the recent Detroit: Become Human (PS4), developed by Quantic Dream and Sony exclusives.
– Assassin’s Creed – The Series, by Ubisoft. I personally worked specifically with the three chapters that take place in Renaissance Italy, which have allowed me to also deliver accurate cultural elements to my Italian language & culture college courses. [Assassin’s Creed II, for PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows and Mac OS (2009-2016); and its direct sequels, Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood, for PS 3, PS 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, and Mac OS (2010-2016); and Assassin’s Creed Revelations (for PS 3, PS 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, and Mac OS (2011-2016)]
– Tomb Raider, by Square Enix for PS 3, Xbox 360 and Microsoft Windows (2013) and its direct sequel, Rise of the Tomb Raider, initially an Xbox One exclusive (2015), and now available also for PS4 and PC. A new chapter, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, has been announced for fall 2018.
These are all games that I have used in my class instruction. They, in my view, present the best scenario for F/L2 acquisition. The games I select, besides having engaging narratives (with AC II, AC Revelations and AC Brotherhood even offering outstanding overviews of Italian Renaissance culture), also conform to my own personal rules on teaching through video games, that is, no war games nor any horror games. While there is some graphic violence in all games, they are still suitable for the average college student population, with ratings ranging from Teen through Mature (18+).
Some of the games I have mentioned date back as far as 2008. Keeping up to date with the latest video game offerings is not a requirement. In the gaming world, “retro” is cool. Also, we should bear in mind that given the Teen/Mature ratings of those games (or other similar games); many of our present-day students would not have been of suitable age to have experienced those games when they were first available. An additional advantage in using older games is that many of them are available at a much cheaper price than current releases, and often via convenient digital delivery.
The primary reason I chose and recommend the above mentioned games, however, is because they all have a higher emphasis on storytelling/narrative, animated scenes and voice acting, and more “casual gamer” oriented gameplay that does not require much in terms of previous experience with gaming. Any student can potentially take the controller and proceed through a section of the game. This is even more likely for students with some gaming experience, which at this point in time is the most likely scenario with our students.
NOTE: This blog post is a revised/edited/paraphrased extract from an upcoming publication.
Image: Assassin’s Creed II by Ubisoft.