Interview with an Online Gamer (Part 4 of 4)

Adam House, the host of TEFLCast, breaks down the fundamentals of online gaming within virtual worlds, and we uncover some striking parallels with the basic tenets of teaching and learning.

Part Four

In the final part of my interview with Adam, we discuss how online games such as Destiny facilitate interaction between players. For example, one may communicate verbally through headsets or by text typing. These actions map directly to the foreign language learning context, where teachers may consider MMOPRGs for their students to play in order develop communicative competence and increase cross-cultural knowledge.

Via the Interact button embedded within avatars you can choose to join a player’s team, invite a player to join your team or launch an app that allows you to speak, but not play, together. Via a Settings button you can choose to hear everyone in the vicinity or select the team voice channel in order to only hear people in your team. In these ways, students have many opportunities to interact, not only with a diverse number of interlocutors, but also with native speakers.

Safety and Security

Despite the upside of MMOPRGs, Adam has had some negative experiences while gaming. He reveals how some players hack the system and cheat regularly. Safety and security, however, are taken seriously by game developers, and, by default, players often have the option to prevent others automatically joining teams through the use of invitations. Similarly you can report a player, and player accounts may be revoked, if too many negative reports are recieved. In Second Language Acquisition via Second Life, Milton states that, “…for most young learners access may have to be limited and controlled to ensure they are not placed in the way of danger.” Although virtual social worlds and virtual gaming worlds are seperate entities, this transferable advice is something for the teacher, and interested parents alike, to consider when monitoring children’s gaming usage.

Virtual Interaction vs. Real Life Interaction

According to Adam, MMORPGs are extensions of traditional choose-your-own-adventure storybooks which revolve around rich, colourful stories that we, the players, have partial control over. So the difference between the adventure books of olden times and the online games of now is that we are now “in” the story. This depth, this reality, this form of complete immersion, can lead to addiction. Therefore, not only is it important to consider safety and security while gaming, but also finding the right balance between gaming and doing other activities, especially where young people are concerned. Adam states, “It should be done in a way that children are taught to only want to play x amount of time, because they want to do these other things like go outside and talk to people and have real, physical fun.” The take-away here is that although MMORPGs are designed like an ever-growing, never-ending story, the story, at some point, should and must end.

Anonymity and True-Self

Studies in self-perception show that altered self-representations can directly lead to changes in a person’s behaviour (Yee et al., 2009). This notion is based on Zimbardo’s (1969) research that suggested that deindividuation – a state of decreased self-evaluation due to anonymity – led to increased antisocial and anti-normative behaviours. This seems to tie in with Adam’s experience of open sexism, racism and name-calling while gaming. For Adam, “it does show a way that people can, and do, hide behind avatars“. For me, there is a certain irony here, that the affordances of reduced inhibitions and lessened self-awareness, which would be considered positives for certain language learning activities, could produce such negative effects in the gaming context. The irony comes through my personal discovery that we may in fact become our true selves through participation in a virtual reality. Deep!

References

Milton, J. (2013) Second Language Acquisition via Second Life. In Chapelle C.A. (Ed) The Encyclopedia of Applied Linguistics. Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

Yee. N. & J.N. Bailenson (2009), The Proteus Effect Implications of Transformed Digital Self-Representation on Online and Offline Behavior. Communication Research, 36, 2, pp 285-312.

Zimbardo, P. (1969). The human choice: Individuation, reason and order vs. Devindiviuation, impulse and chaos. In W. Arnold & D.Levine (Eds), Nebraska symposium on motivation (Vol. 17 pp. 237-307). Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

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