Grazie! / Thank you Saint Louis University Reinert Center for your video interview and feature for the Faculty Spotlight section of the current issue of Techology for Teaching, the Reinert Center Journal on Pedagogy, Educational Technology and Evidence-Based Teaching Strategies.
Today, November 27, 2018, I had the pleasure to deliver a distance-learning, one-hour seminar on video game-based learning for Dr. Sara Alloatti’s “Mediendidaktik für den Fremdsprachenunterricht” (Foreign Language Media Pedagogy), a graduate course for foreign language teachers at the Institute of Education Science in the University of Zurich, Switzerland:
The interactive, multimedia-based seminar was conducted in real time over online platforms and included a Q&A session.
Many thanks (grazie mille!) to dr. Sara Alloatti for inviting me, and to her students for the interaction and feedback, which will assist me in furthering my research and project developments.
I am very excited to announce that my article “Using Video Games to Teach Italian Language & Culture: Useful, Effective, Feasible?” NEMLA Italian Studies XXXIX special issue “The Italian Digital Classroom: Italian Culture and Literature through digital tools and social media.”, 2017, pp. 42-71, was published today, October 6, 2018. It is available as a PDF download (https://www.buffalo.edu/content/dam/www/nemla/NIS/XXXIX/NeMLA%20Italian%20Studies%202017%20-%20Using%20Video%20Games.pdf) and in print.
This 30-page article is my most extensive contribution to the field of video game-based learning (with a focus on commercial, non-serious gaming) in second/foreign language acquisition to date. It is a practicum. While it focuses mainly on Italian as F/L2, the information and instructions provided can be applied/adapted to any major language/any language in which the games mentioned are localized. It also includes plenty of information on video games for use in ESL, Japanese as a foreign language & culture, and for K-12.
Many thanks to the editors Tania Convertini, Ph.D., Dartmouth College and Simona Wright, Ph.D., The College of New Jersey for this excellent opportunity.
Video games are an integral part of life for our students. Some commercial video games are multi-media realia that can be used to enhance language acquisition both in and outside the classroom. Compared to other digital realia, they add opportunities for language exploration: direct interaction and agency; critical thinking and problem-solving; and a detailed narrative. This article presents a practicum for their use. Evidence that utilizing communicative video games can be conducive to F/L2 acquisition is provided, particularly focusing on the use of Assassin’s Creed II and Heavy Rain. Then, technical advice and best practices related to gaming in F/L2 acquisition are offered. Discussion of the development of an intensive language & culture course for gamers concludes the article.
I am honored to have met today with Martin Dionne, cultural attaché of Québec in Chicago. I was invited by Dr. Lionel Cuillé, French professor and Jane and Bruce Robert Chair in French and Francophone Studies at Webster University in St. Louis.
Very happy to be involved in a project that involves Video Game-Based Learning in Second/Foreign Language Acquisition that is planned for fall 2019 here in St. Louis. The project, sponsored by the Government of Quebec, will include roundtables on Video Game-Based Language Learning, Higher Education and the job market in the French Canadian gaming industry.
The presence of companies such as Ubisoft, EA, Eidos, Bethesda, Square Enix, Warner Bros, makes the French-speaking Canadian province of Québec one of the leading regions for the gaming industry worldwide. Effective foreign language acquisition in Higher Education provides students with the necessary skills to attain fluency in other languages, which increases their opportunities in job markets throughout the gaming industry worldwide.
Glad to represent Saint Louis University and the Deparment of Languages, Literatures and Cultures on such an important project.
For decades now, video games have been a pervasive part of our culture. About half of American adults play video games (Duggan, 2015), while 97% of teen boys and 83% of teen girls also play video games (Anderson & Jiang, 2018).
The potential for utilizing gaming in learning has been explored in a variety of fields, including language acquisition (e.g., Reinders, 2012). Some commercially available cinematic video games are fully-interactive multimedia experiences, Thus including such games in the curriculum as realia (Spurr, 1942; Dlaska, 2003) can help students reinforce, and expand upon, materials they learn through traditional methods. Realia reinforce foreign/second language (F/L2) acquisition through development of specific personal interests. Cinematic games, similar in nature to movies, also add agency, which improves learning (Deters et al., 2014). They also involve problem-solving and critical thinking that can be applied to group interaction, all of which is particularly conducive to learning (Wenger, 1998) and F/L2 acquisition (Nunan, 1992). Video games can contribute to the goal of transforming our students into life-long learners of (a) F/L2 language(s), a process explored by CALL (e.g., Smith, 1997).
As a professor of foreign languages, literature and culture, I have been experimenting with video game-based learning since 1998. In recent years, I have found that some highly communicative-oriented, cinematic video games to be effective in my classroom as supplements to more traditional teaching techniques, as a tool to reinforce vocabulary and grammatical forms, as a means to present authentic cultural data, and as a challenge for students to problem solve in their target language (TL). Games such as the main chapters in the Assassin’s Creed series (Ubisoft, 2007-2018. Currently, there are ten main “chapters” available in the series; eleven with Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, which is due for release in two weeks) are fully-interactive multimedia experiences combining real-time animation, speech/dialogue, subtitles, writing (textual interaction) and, in some cases, even spoken interaction, in the form of audio/video chat with other users. As a form of digital realia, artifacts in the TL that help enhance language acquisition, they can be used to reinforce and expand materials that have been previously learned through traditional methods (Bregni, 2018a & 2018b).
My own education, first for my Laurea in Italy, then during my Ph.D. studies at the University of Connecticut, has always been broad and interdisciplinary. I have a solid background in Classics, History, Medieval Studies, International Studies, Philosophy and Theology. Along with language, I have taught a variety of courses, from Medieval & Renaissance to contemporary literature, culture and cinema, all with a multidisciplinary approach that has yielded excellent results. Students have consistently indicated a very favorable evaluation and enjoyment of my approach to foreign language, culture and literature learning through a variety of digital media. I have made Computer Assisted Instruction (C.A.I.) a regular part of my teaching since 1997, implementing several different web and multimedia based activities.
Based on my research and teaching practices, video game-based learning (VGBL) is effective in augmenting and expanding knowledge that has been acquired through traditional methods. Research (mine, as well as that of others) indicates that playing video games involves a physical response from the body that increases acquisition and memorization (Total Physical Response (TPR) theory), adrenaline production, which has also been shown to increase learning, and captures the player’s focus and attention (Csikszentmihályi’s Flow theory). All of the above points in the direction of video games being a very effective learning device.
“Serious games” (including recent VR- and AR-based games) have been and are currently being developed in a variety of fields, including mathematics, the natural sciences and the social sciences. Some commercially-available games (such as Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed Series, and Square-Enix Tomb Raider & Life is Strange series) are sophisticated, high-budget, highly-captivating products that can be used in a variety of fields (foreign languages/ESL, history, psychology and the social sciences), for K-12 (elementary/middle/high-school with some age-rating limitations) through university.
While there currently are Game-Based Learning Centers and Institutes at various institutions, their focus currently seems to be more centered on assisting faculty and staff in incorporating “classroom gamification tecniques.” They also seem to be more focused on “serious gaming.” Recent research on commercially-available games indicates that impact of such games on teaching and learning is substantial. Given that some AAA video gaming products (i.e. the Assassin’s Creed series) benefit from the contributions of scholars and experts in various fields (historians, psychologists, linguists, etc.) to produce multi-million-dollars “hyper-polished” consumer products, their impact can be potentially even greater, as research, mine as well as others, and teaching practices indicate.
A multi-disciplinary Academic Center for Video Game-Based Learning (possibly connected to a Game Design program) would gather scholars from multiple fields (in the Humanities and the Sciences) working together to explore the benefits of video game-based learning within and across fields. The Center would also research the implications of VGBL for different types of learners. For example, neurologist and neuropsychologists working with linguists to explore the impact of VGBL on students with disabilities and non-traditional learners. Should such a center/institute also include other forms of game-based learning? I believe so. Such a center should be multi-disciplinary and multi-focused because there is no reason to limit its potential. I have a working relationship with highly regarded colleagues who do meaningful research and teach with boardgames, RPG’s and theater-as-play (dramturgy) with whom I am happy to cooperate for multi-faceted approaches.
This is my vision.
“I firmly believe that learning should be fun. The fact that it is fun doesn’t take away from the seriousness — it’s just more effective!” Simone Bregni, Ph.D.
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I just submitted revisions of my two chapters and one co-edited chapter for Learning, Education and Games 3: 100 Games to Use in the Classroom & Beyond.
The games I covered are:
- Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed – The Series (co-edited chapter with Gabriele Aroni, Ph.D., Ryerson University, and Heidi McDonald, iThrive Games);
- Square Enix’s Rise of the Tomb Raider; and
- Tequila Works’ The Invisible Hours VR.
I am seriously disappointed that I will not be able to utilize the excellent The Invisible Hours VR in my Intensive Italian for Gamers course at SLU next spring because it is not localized in Italian.
As I wrote in my chapter:
The narrative and writing, the complexity of the characters, the emphasis on observation and logic rather than “active” gaming and the theatrical-quality acting, all contribute to making this game ideal for numerous courses (from senior year of high-school to college and adults) across multiple disciplines… the storyline is narrated with audio and subtitles available in multiple languages (Spanish, French, German and English). The game narrative can thus be to provide exposure to linguistic and cultural content in ESL and foreign language courses to reinforce vocabulary, grammatical forms, sentence structure and oral fluency. For ESL learners, an additional feature is the excellent lip-syncing, a rare feature that makes this game more attractive than other comparable cinematic, narrative-driven products. Since players can “project themselves” in front of each character as they speak, close inspection of the lip-syncing (especially in VR mode) facilitates listening comprehension. The task-based gameplay can challenge students to problem-solve in the target language, which is particularly beneficial for language acquisition purposes (Shehadeh and Coombe, 2012).
Dear People at Tequila Works:
The Italian video game market is thriving, and the Italian as a foreign language market is very promising. Italian is the fourth most studied language in the world: https://www.britishcouncil.org/voices-magazine/how-good-italian-businessGame localization in additional languages, while a financial commitment, is a beneficial investment.
During my sabbatical in spring 2018, I traveled to Asti, Italy, where I continued conducting research on video game-based learning (VGBL); coordinating contacts with colleagues in the field, who are interested and willing to cooperate on research projects; writing invited articles and chapter contributions; and delivering a series of invited lectures and workshops based on my research, expertise and teaching practices at academic institutions in Spain, Italy and Austria. Both my workshop and presentation formats were created with the assistance of the Saint Louis University Reinert Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning. Some of my research was founded by the James H. Korn Scholarship of Teaching and Learning Award, which I received in fall 2017 for developing and teaching “Intensive Italian for Gamers.” The course, which applies game-based learning and digital media to second/foreign language acquisition, will be offered again at SLU in spring 2019.
While on sabbatical:
• I gave six invited presentations and workshops on VGBL at academic institutions in Spain, Italy and Austria.
I performed outcomes assessment and results have been very favorable. Over 95% of the participants gave favorable feedback on my presentations and workshops.
• I gave invited lectures on VGBL at three high-schools in the Piedmont region, Italy.
• I had an article published in Profession, the Journal of the Modern Language Association. The article, which was published on April 14, 2018, and the related SLU press release, resulted in a cascade of international recognition for me; for the Italian Studies Program; for the Department of Languages, Literatures & Cultures; for Saint Louis University; and for the SLU Reinert Center. In fact, as of today (August 19, 2018) over 100 news sources from all over the world have cited and/or reprinted my scholarship and teaching practice. Also, I was interviewed by several national and international news sources (radio, newspapers, educational).
• I submitted final revisions for one article; also submitted one invited book chapter, and three short chapters.
• I made substantial progress on suggested editorial formatting revisions to my manuscript on Dante’s Divine Comedy, “Locus Amoenus: Imitatio intertestuale/Interdiscorsiva nella Commedia (Intertextual/Interdiscoursive Imitatio in Dante’s Comedy.)” Final edits will be submitted to Longo Editore, Italy, in late September, 2018.
Presentations and Workshops
• On Wednesday, February 14, 2018, I delivered the workshop “(E-)Life is (not) Strange: Using Video Games in Foreign/Second Language Acquisition” to an audience of professors, instructors and MA students in Spanish and ESL at the New York University Campus in Madrid.
• On Thursday, February 15, I delivered a presentation entitled “Assassin’s Creed Taught Me a Foreign Language: Video Games in Second/Foreign Language & Culture Acquisition” to students and faculty at the SLU Madrid campus.
• On Thursday, March 8 and Friday, March 9, 2018, I delivered two VGBL sessions to an audience of instructors and students in Italian at the Spring Hill College Campus in Bologna.
• On Friday, March 16, 2018, I delivered delivered a 3-hour seminar on VGBL in Foreign/Second Language Acquisition to an audience of approximately seventy first-year students in Modern Languages in Prof. Elisa Corino’s Didattica delle Lingue Moderne course at Università degli Studi di Torino, my Alma Mater.
• On Wednesday, June 6, 2018, I delivered one presentation (Video Games & Learning in Higher Education) and two workshops (Video Game-Based Learning in Higher Education; Video Games in Second/Foreign Language & Culture Acquisition) at the “Lehre und Lernen” E-Learning Conference (Teaching and Learning Days) at the Alpen-Adria University of Klagenfurt, Austria.
• On Thursday, June 14, 2018, I presented the paper “Teaching Italian for Gamers – A Textbook Project” in the session “Teaching Italian with (Video) Games” at the American Association of Italian Studies conference in Sorrento, Italy. I was also the co-organizer of the session with Dr. Brandon Essary, Elon University.
• I published the invited article “Assassin’s Creed Taught Me Italian: Video Games and the Quest for Foreign Language Acquisition” in Profession, the Journal of the Modern Language Association: https://profession.mla.hcommons.org/2018/03/22/assassins-creed-taught-me-italian/
• I submitted final revisions for “Using Video Games to Teach Italian Language & Culture: Useful, Effective, Feasible?” that will appear in NEMLA Italian Studies XXXIX special issue “The Italian Digital Classroom: Italian Culture and Literature through digital tools and social media.” Expected publication date: fall 2018.
• I submitted three short chapters (1,000-2,000 words each): Assassin’s Creed; The Invisible Hours; Rise of the Tomb Raider, accepted for inclusion in “Learning, Education & Games Vol. 3: 100 Games to Use in the Classroom,” ETC Press/Carnegie Mellon. Expected publication date: spring 2019.
Media Reception and Interviews
My research and teaching practices were quoted in stories about teaching Italian through gaming that ran in Variety, Science Daily, Newswise, Eurekalert, La Stampa (Italian national newspaper), TGCom24 (Italian national TV news/website), IGN Italia, Forbes Italia, Brightsurf, Der Standard (Austrian national newspaper), Movies with Butter, Bioportfolio, PhysOrg, Science Magazine, India Today, Business Standard, The Asian Age, Tribune India, Deccan Chronicle, Hindustan Times, The University Network, St. Louis Magazine, El Mercurio, Fibonacci, Mastergame, Mid-day News, Multiplayer, Everyeye, the Google News feed, and more.
– On 4/29/18 I was interviewed in French by Radio Canada – Channel One. The interview can be found here: https://ici.radio-canada.ca/premiere/emissions/dessine-moi-un-dimanche/segments/entrevue/69870/simone-bregni-enseignement-italien-apprentissage-langues
– On 5/1/18, my course and research at SLU were mentioned on Radio Monte Carlo (Italian language radio station in the Principauté de Monaco) in the show: “Kay is in the air,” as well as on Radio Erft—Germany.
– On 5/5/18, I was interviewed on Radio Cusano Campus, the radio of Niccolò Cusano University ( https://www.unicusano.it/ ), a private institution in Rome and Milan, as part of their show “Giochi a fumetti”: https://t.co/OWVAbuhJ2K
– On 6/9/18, I was interviewed by the Italian national private radio station Radio Deejay as part of the program MegaJay about my research and teaching on video game-based learning at Saint Louis University. The interview, in Italian, is available here: https://www.deejay.it/audio/20180609-7/565158/ [40:37-43:40; comments: 46:50-54:20]
– On 6/28/18 an interview article was published by Altagram, a video game localization company based in Germany, on their company blog: https://altagram.com/learning-languages-through-gaming-interview-with-simone-bregni/
I would like to thank the SLU College of Arts & Sciences, the Reinert Center, and the Madrid Campus. I would also like to thank the NYU Madrid Campus; the Spring Hill College Bologna Campus; my alma mater, Università degli Studi di Torino; Villa Nazareth in Rome; and the Alpen-Adria University of Klagenfurt, Austria.
Photo: Dr. Bregni with 5th year students from Istituto Enogastronomico “Penna” in San Damiano d’Asti, Italy – April 2018
An excellent, informative article on my scholarship and teaching practices at Saint Louis University was published today on Forbes Italia. Emiliano Ragoni, the reporter, did a great job asking intelligent, insightful interview questions, and synthesized them in a well-written article.
I particularly appreciate when educators, who are also gamers (or have an interest in gaming), interview me, because we share two fundamental passions and drives in life, teaching and gaming.
Image: Forbes Italia – Logo
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.
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
Welcome to my website and blog. I will be sharing regular updates on my research and developments in my teaching practices for video games (“non-serious”) in second/foreign language & culture (F/L2) acquisition.
Since April 2018, my research and teaching practices using commercially-available video games in F/L2 have received a lot of attention globally, with lots of curiosity and some questions. Mostly, however, I believe that the ideas have resonated with many people around the world, who have experienced, directly or indirectly, that some recent cinematic, narrative-driven video games enhance, and contribute to, foreign language acquisition.