This article in Innovate, the journal of online education, looks at the educational possibilities of Massively Multiplayer Online Games as learning environments.
Focusing in particular on Quest Atlantis and The Sims Online, two popular MMOGs (sometimes also called Massively Multiplayer Role Playing Games), the authors "identify and define nine principles of learning that allow such games to have valuable potential as tools for educators"
The article points out one of the transformation that is taking place in the world of entertainment that is growing in importance: namely that "many of today's students spend more time playing video games than they do watching television, reading books, or watching films"
Reading the article reminded me of Marc Prensky, whose 'Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants' should be compulsory reading for all 21st century educators.
It seems that it could be the right time to take a serious look at the potential for language learning that these games hold - a couple of my younger students are keen players (both of World of Warcraft), and have often asked me odd vocabulary questions at the end of class ("What does 'soul sucker' mean?" was a recent one) that never fail to surprise me.
I also been reading recently the fascinating accounts of adventures and experiences in MMRPGs in the special supplement on this in Wired's April issue, which includes a fabulous account of a chat show host who holds his interview program from within the online world of Halo - every time he holds an interview, his guests have to be protected from potential ambushes from virtual snipers.
Although most of the MMOGs are (just like most video games) violent in nature, there are others appearing that are not, which are probably better bets for education.
Of these, Second Life seems to be the most promising of these MMRPGs for language learning (at least according to the little I have read about the game: "An online society within a 3D world where you can explore, build, socialize, and participate in its economy"), and I have decided to make this one of my next projects, having signed up for an account (free) and downloaded the client to my PC (it's also available for the Mac).
Anyone else out there tempted? Why not join me? It could be that I'm barking up the wrong tree, but at least I'll have some virtual fun finding out.