“Using Video Games to Teach Italian Language & Culture: Useful, Effective, Feasible?” NEMLA Italian Studies XXXIX special issue “The Italian Digital Classroom.”

VGBL in F/L2 Publications, Video Game-Based Language Learning, Video Game-Based Learning, Video Games in Foreign Language Teaching & Learning

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.

Abstract

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.

My Vision of a Multi-Disciplinary Academic Center for Video Game-Based Learning.

Multi-Disciplinary Academic Center for VGBL, Video Game-Based Language Learning, Video Game-Based Learning, Video Games in Foreign Language Teaching & Learning

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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My Chapters for “Learning, Education and Games 3: 100 Games to Use in the Classroom & Beyond,” VR, and Game Localization.

Learning, Education and Games, Microsoft, Non-serious gaming, PlayStation, Video Game Localization, Video Game-Based Language Learning, Video Game-Based Learning, Video Games in Foreign Language Teaching & Learning, Xbox

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.

Sincerely,

Simone

My Altagram Interview & More Great Video Games that Should Be Localized in Additional Languages (Italian included, Of Course) [But are Great for ESL]

Microsoft, Nintendo, Non-serious gaming, PlayStation, Sony, Switch, Video Game Localization, Video Game-Based Language Learning, Video Games in Foreign Language Teaching & Learning, Xbox

I was delighted when Altagram (altragram.com) approached me a few weeks ago about an interview for their website/company blog. My research and teaching practices are based on commercially-available video games with high-quality localization in multiple languages. The fact that a company such as Altagram showed interest in my work gave me an awareness of related areas that my research on video game-based learning and foreign language (& culture) acquisition might impact.

In my interview (available here:
https://altagram.com/learning-languages-through-gaming-interview-with-simone-bregni/)
I make two main points:

I) Some excellent current games are, alas, not localized in Italian (nor in other major languages). Such is the case of  [quotes from the Altagram interview]:

a) “Square Enix’s Life is Strange [….] is an excellent portrayal of the life of American teens in a small, Northwestern US coastal town. Life is Strange has not been fully localized in Italian, which is really unfortunate, because I would have loved to use it in my courses, since it has many topics that would “speak” to my student population, and, more importantly, it provides opportunities to discuss and develop empathy.” [Same goes for the two other games currently out and taking place in the Life is Strange universe: Life is Strange – Before the Storm, and Captain Spirit]. 

b) Tequila Works’ The Invisible Hours: “I am also disappointed that the amazingly innovative and well-written The Invisible Hours by Tequila Works has not been fully localized in Italian. But for ESL students it is an excellent learning tool: being able to observe lip movements up close and personal, especially in VR mode on PlayStation VR, greatly enhances listening comprehension, especially given the in-game ability to review and fast-forward time at will.”

“[…]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 a high interest in video games as learning devices for foreign languages and cultures.

II) The localization of lip-syncing

“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 my native country Italy, 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.

Currently, I believe that the Assassin’s Creed series [by Ubisoft] and games by Quantic Dream are excellent examples of strong localization, which, to me, is much more than “simple” translation. High-quality localization makes every single in-game data and reference fully understandable and accessible to people from other cultures.”

Other excellent examples of video game localization are the 2013-present day Tomb Raider series by Square Enix and the Syberia series by Microïds. The latter has the merit of being suitable for most ages; it is also available also on Nintendo Switch; and it is fully localized in a wide selection of languages (out-of-the-box; the US version of Syberia I, which I own, includes Italian, German and Russian besides the “usual” English, Spanish and French).

PS: Italian Gamers who are familiar with the Final Fantasy series will catch a little typo (which I became aware of, and pointed out tonight): it was FF VIII, not VII [which was alas not localized in Italian until much later. My memory of events that happened 18-20 years ago is not as good as it used to be ;-)]
EDIT on 5/7/18: Thank you Julia Pazos at Altagram for approaching me about the interview. It was a pleasure. And thank you for prompt edit. 

IMAGE: Life is Strange – Square Enix
Original Image by Spinoziano – PlayStation 4 PlayStation Store screen capture; Copyrighted, https://it.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6161721