When I think about computer games a lot of fond memories come flooding back. From my first console to my first arcade game, I was always a generation behind. My first console was the Atari 2600 in the eighties, followed by the commodore 64, the Megadrive, Playstation one, PS2, Gamecube, Wii and now PS3. I can remember friends and family and their corresponding console of choice, the games we played and all the other things that were happening in my life. The games that left their mark were, Combat, Zork, Salamander, the last Ninja, Falcon, Outrun, Sonic the Hedgehog, The first Tomb raider, Command and Conquer, Abe’s odyssey and the list continues.

Photo on 05-08-2015 at 22.24

Being in the zone

The fact is computer game culture goes back quite a long way now and has developed a rich variety of genres which can be used as content for language learning. When we study language we usually look to text based content such as books and articles or from audio, songs and video clips. Computer games on the other hand combine all these media to create an interactive narrative that can be far more engaging. In the book ‘Digital Play’ Kyle Mawer and Graham Stanley describe the concept of ‘flow’ as ‘a state of immersion and clarity you enter when you are experiencing absolute concentration on a task’, (Mawer, K. Stanley, G. 2011). From another perspective, this is usually what parents experience when they try to talk to their hypnotised controller twiddling children. Just imagine if you could get your students to experience this while they were learning a language.

Language learning games

Unfortunately, according to this book, the majority of games designed for language learning are ‘doomed’. This is due mainly to bad game design based around testing but also inadequate visuals, sound and narrative. For this reason Mawer and Stanley suggest using commercial games rather than specific language learning games, (Mawer, K. Stanley, G. 2011). For me it’s like using any other kind of media, an authentic text or listening is always going to be more interesting and engaging. What’s important is how you organise and grade the activities/tasks around the material.

Back to school

This book is divided into three parts; the first part looks at game culture, the second part is full of practical activities, and the third part is a guide to implementing digital play in your institution and teacher development. Some of the activities require specific equipment or an internet connection but there is also a range of activities that require nothing but pen and paper. In fact it’s the discussion activities in this book that I’d like to start with next year. Then maybe we can start with some mobile games and finally I’ll bring in my Wii and we can all play Super Mario! As I tried to demonstrate above, some people have a lot to say about computer games, so let’s start talking about it!

Has anyone used computer games in or outside class? How did it go?

Has anyone got any suggestions for games or ideas?


Featured image (GT Interactive 1997)

Mawer. Km, Stanley. G, ‘Digital Play’ (Delta Publishing 2011)