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Gaming has changed the face of the 21st century. The prevalence of video gaming in societies across the globe grows each day with the development and transformation of technology.According to the data released by the Entertainment Software Association, the computer and video game industry sold 273 million units in 2009 leading to approximately 10.5 billion dollars in revenue. In 2015, consumers spent a total of 22.41 billion dollars on the games industry. The average video game player is 35 years old (Primack, 2009). It is safe to say that the world of video games, online games, MMO’s (Massively Multiplayer Online Game), RPG’s (Role-Playing Games), etc.
possess global cultural significance. These multiplayer platforms bring people together from all over the world to play and interact with each other.
Fifty-six percent of the most frequent gamers play with others. For them, gaming is a means of social interaction with friends, relatives and even strangers. Fifty-four percent of gamers felt that video games helped them to connect with friends.
Forty-five perfect of gamers felt that video games helped them to spend more time with their family (ESA, 2015).
Developments in educational studies suggest that video games are critical tools for engaging twenty-first century learners in the classroom. Turkle (1984) describes videogames as opportunities for people to “learn… how to learn”. These games or “play-like activities” stimulate the right parts of the brain in order to be engaging; addicting even, and may possess other values such as improving hand-eye coordination, understanding of rules, and even the development of literacy in a non-native language (Primack, 2009).
For the majority of gamers, gameplay happens daily. Data from the Entertainment Software Association reflects that frequent gamers are spending an average of 11.5 hours a week playing video games with others online and in-person. With the development of smart phones, gaming can take place virtually anywhere. Thirty-five percent of gamers used their smartphone to play games in 2015 (ESA, 2015). According to the New Media Consortium’s 2014 K-12 Horizon Report: “The industry is producing a steady stream of games that continue to expand their nature and impact – they can be artistic, social, and collaborative, with many allowing massive numbers of people from all over the world to participate simultaneously”.
As a result, growing focus has been concentrated towards the positive developmental and educational effects of video/computer games. Educators have taken notice of the effects that video games have on their students. While some argue that it has been detrimental to their learning capacity, many studies indicate that games have changed the way that students learn. Gee (2003) argues that the “learning principles that good games incorporate are all strongly supported by research in cognitive science”. Initial problems that users face when they start playing a game are specifically designed to allow players to form an understanding of how to solve more complex problems later on in the game (Gee, 2003).
This research essay will demonstrate that videogames can have positive educational benefits such as the development of literacy and language through videogame play. This occurs through the user’s ability to use his or her ‘multiliteracies’. That is, the teaching and learning that involves “drawing on a range of student-centered, active-learning principles” (Hepple et al. 2014). The essay will also reflect that through collaboration and communication with other players, both inside and outside of the game (forums, chats, etc.) players can develop literacy skills such as reading and writing for communication with other users.
Consequently, these two factors fostered an intrinsically motivated learning environment where users could control what information they wanted to learn. By being in control of their own education, gamers were more involved in the learning process and were able to retain more information in relation to the language skills and literacies through reading and writing to communicate with others on both videogame consoles and computers.
The multiliteracies approach “suggests a pedagogy for active citizenship, centered on learners as agents in their own knowledge processes, capable of contributing their own as well as negotiating differences between one community and the next” (Cope & Kalantzis, 2009). In the case of virtual and online games, users are able to control and manipulate their own learning during gameplay. Some games may not have speech or tutorials to explain how to play, but the user is exposed to a few lines of text at a time in order to navigate their own gaming experience.
These lines in the text “encourage the player to read with comprehension” (Gumulak & Webber, 2011). Gamers must also use their own multiliteracies to multitask: navigating maps, collecting resources, building shelters, as well as communicating with other players. Through their multitasking, users develop an understanding and competence of information literacy: “knowing when and why you need information, where to find it, and how to evaluate, use and communicate it in an ethical manner” (CILIP, 2009).
Through the development of information literacy, gamers learn to discriminate information sources to solve problems in the language of the game they are playing. In a study conducted in the United Kingdom, researchers Sabrina Gumulak and Sheila Webber (2011) held interviews with a variety of gamers. They asked respondents why they enjoyed playing games, to which many replied that they sought out difficult games because of “the excitement and achievement in overcoming them.” This finding coincides with the work of J.P Gee (2003) who states that: “good games operate at the outer and growing edge of a player’s competence, remaining challenging, but do-able”.
Therefore, it can be asserted that some gamers use their multiliteracies to find their own zone of proximal development and choose games that fall within that area to challenge them and enhance their learning/gaming experience. Gee (2003) also writes that: “games allow players to be producers and not just consumers”. Through gameplay, the user must ‘co-create’ the game world by making choices to pave their own pathway through the game. These actions enhance cognitive abilities through multitasking. The user is actively engaged in their personal learning process and can make their own decisions regarding what information they will access and ultimately acquire.
In the game Rise of Nations, users are able to adjust almost any element of the game and are also presented with skills tests “to ensure that nearly everyone can find the outer edge of their competence” (Gee, 2003). As the game continues and players build on the skills that they have learned, they may adjust the settings to continually push their learning forward in order to attain a greater challenge.
It is true that the development of literacy and language learning can be limited when analyzed within the confines of a game itself. The relationship between learning language conventions and gaming is not only found in gameplay but also in what occurs after gameplay. Some scholars argue that the online communities are what essentially build competency in a non- native language. Research tells us that in order to learn a language, there must be repeated and collaborative interactions in the situated context. This occurs in some games, but mostly is limited to simple words or phrases used in the game.
Many gamers and users turn to the online world to seek out like-minded individuals in order to compare strategies, discuss game-related issues, as well as creating fan-fiction, etc. These activities are an essential component of what is known as gaming culture. “From the perspective of second language acquisition, language learning while playing games comes from interaction with native speakers or more fluent peers” (Ryu, 2013). Users often seek out information from beyond-game culture.
The online communities act as a learning environment where gamers can develop game skills or strategies, as well as language proficiency through communication and interaction with others (Ryu, 2013). Within these online discussions, game users can effectively use their reading and writing skills to develop language proficiency.
The majority of gamers around the world are playing games that use English as the primary language of communication. This is reflected in the statistics for the top 20 best selling video games in 2014. All twenty of the games listed used the English language as a medium of communication (ESA, 2015). In Ryu’s 2013 study, he found that most users used English as a target language to communicate with others all over the world – even though they were non- native English speakers. That is to say, if someone from Russia were trying to communicate with someone from Japan, they would use English as a method of communication in the online forum. It was used as a ‘lingua franca’ between non-native speakers (Ryu, 2013).
“Participants whose first language was not English showed a strong tendency to believe that there exists one standard version of English grammar, which is often taught in school or known to native speakers only… Thus, the activity of language learning through beyond-game culture could be understood as reading and writing in purposeful contexts for communication” (Ryu, 2013).
When players communicate in massive multiplayer games (MMO’s), they collaborate in teams. Each of them uses a “different, but overlapping set of skills and they share their knowledge, skills, and values with others both inside and outside of the game” (Gee, 2003). This requires functional communication tools in a target language. Gamers are more motivated to learn and try new ways to acquire this language so that they may use it to complete tasks and set goals with their online teammates.
Motivation is an integral and necessary component of learning. Whether intrinsic or extrinsic, it is necessary for a student to have a drive to learn certain material. This applies to education in schools as well as the “schooling” of videogames. “Successful students learn to set and manage short-term and long-term goals; videogame players do thiswithout having to be told to do their homework” (Jackson, 2009). Gamers are constantly seeking new strategies to solve problems within the game. They are motivated by a need to complete levels to their own satisfaction. In the instance of language development through the use of video and computer games, students/gamers are driven by their own personal motivation to overcome difficult levels, surpass their friends or family for the sake of competition, or defeat the game in its entirety.”
When playing videogames, risk-taking is encouraged due to decreased real-world consequences, or “psychosocial moratorium” (Erikson, 1980), so mistakes are seen as learning opportunities” (Jackson, 2009). They are more open to making mistakes in the game since they can usually build up some lives, so that if they make a mistake they can learn from it quickly to move on to the next level. This level of motivation is not always apparent when it comes to the traditional paper-and-pencil method of learning that usually occurs in the classroom.
The content can be boring, and the personal motivation to learn diminishes because the classroom is teacher- directed instead of student-directed. Gee (2003) declares that: “in computer and video games, players engage in ‘action at a distance’ much like remotely manipulating a robot, but in a far more fine-grained fashion. Cognitive research suggests that such fine-grained action at a distance actually causes humans to feel as if their bodies and minds have stretched into a new space; a highly motivating state”.
Gamers are also able to take on new identities and perspectives, see themselves as active problem-solvers, view mistakes as “opportunities for reflection and learning”, undo a previous way of solving a problem in order to learn new ways, and take risks (Gee, 2003). This manipulation appears to be “the deepest foundation of a player’s motivation in sticking with and eventually mastering a game” (Gee, 2003). It is difficult to return to the classroom after such mental and cognitive stimulation.
As a result of these changes in thinking and behavior that technology has encouraged, Prensky (2001) points out that “Today’s students are no longer the people our educational system was designed to teach”. Due to the fact that students typically find gaming more entertaining than school, there are greater amounts of teachers who are incorporating games into their classroom (Spires, 2015).
Overall, it is clear that technology has affected learners. Through video and computer gaming, users are exposed to the possibility of learning through their own will. Students use their multiliteracies to adapt to new games, seek out games that are within their zone of proximal development, and use these platforms as a means to communicate with their peers and friends in online communities that exist outside the game.
They may use a non-native language to communicate, and this builds their literacy and understanding through their own intrinsic motivation. They feel the need to communicate as a result of interactions that occur within the game – whether it is with another user or with the video game itself. Through the study of gameplay, it is impossible to ignore the educational benefits that can result through constructive and purposeful games. There is an inherit value to them, if we look beyond what immediately meets the eye as “just a game”.
Games have been developed for a multitude of purposes, even to help train surgeons prepare for life-saving operations. We need to remember to keep a healthy balance between gaming and real-life, but also not to write off gaming as purely something that is for the amusement of children and immature adults.
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