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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