Wednesday, April 19, 2006

MMOG & MMRPG in Education

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.


  1. Second life looks pretty intersting. And if you are wealthy you can even buy an island where your students would be able to learn - 25% discount available for verified educators.

    I think I'll signup and look around.

  2. damn... I tried it, but my video card isn't supported, I don't play games so didn't buy a high end card.

    played for awhile and it was real slow, then crashed.

  3. Count me in - I've been planning to teach via Second Life for a while now, and boy was that Wired issue killer - have you seen the video (on YouTube) of Will Wright presenting his newest game? It's mindboggling.

    Anyway let me set up another Second Life account and I'll ping you.

  4. I'm curious as to how you could teach with second life since you cannot guarantee that students will have access to a computer with the minimum requirements (especially the video card) - I was looking into it as a resource that I would recommend to students if they have computers that can do it.

  5. That's great Cleve - that makes three of us as a colleague of mine here in Barcelona is also interested. Shall we set up a virtual language academy inside Second Life?

    EFLGeek, you're absolutely right - I still don't know how feasible it is either as I've only just joined - I had to upgrade the drivers of my graphics card before I could use it - I spent last night making my way down "Orientation hill" and am now on "Help Island. "

    I'd originally thought there'd be more of a voice chat feature (I'm sure it'll come), but it's all text chat as far as I can see, which could be limiting. I was talking to some of the mentors in the game yesterday, many of whom are multilingual - there are lots of non-native speakers of English joining at the moment, and I think many of them will find it tough if they don't have a reasonable level of English.

    We shall see. The Second Life world intrigues me - the whole way it is set up, the economy, etc. At the very least, it's worth exploring its possibilities.

  6. Hi Graeme, really enjoyed the topic and you point toward some interesting areas.

    In regard to playing those types of games to improve language, this is one aspect I did in fact discover during one of my investigations into MMORPG communities as legitimate communities in their own right.

    Later on in the document I refer to the work of Jurgen Habermas and his theories on Communicative Rationality and Action. In it Habermas believed that people within a community actively subscribe to rules, regulations and extra-cognitive rules so as their communitie can reach some form of understanding.

    Whlist investigating this, I discovered that many players would often criticise other players who did not use the language of that particular server - in my case it was an English server. The developers did not make it law that everyone had to speak English.

    Though unaware of this, one of the reasons I found why this occured was again in regard to Habermas and the idea that if one were to speak in a foreign tongue then an understanding cannot be reached between players. Simply, communication as a prerequisite for community formation cannot be made - what Habermas terms a 'universal pragmatics' that all abide by, either by law or by their own motivation.

    Aside from this many non-native speaking English players would actively encourage this extra-cognitive rule of all players speaking English, because they found it vital as a tool in order to learn the English language.

    It was an example of a somewhat cyclical sharing of lifeworlds; of how a person's real-world motivations (their 'off-line lives' to denote how people's lives in cyberspace is no less real) as in the need to learn english, encourages players to take a pro-active role in virtual space (their 'on-line lives') and back again.

    Great insights here Graeme and the rest, many thanks :) You can find extracts of my investigations on my blog. Regards.

  7. This is great, Toops - thanks very much for sharing this with us