A blog for teachers and learners who love technology

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Massively Multi-player online Role-playing Games - Learn English and play at the same time

Massively Multi-player on-line Role-playing Games

An alliance battling a boss monster in Guild Wars 2

Some initial thoughts

Throughout this journey of talking about different ICT tools that are capable of promoting ELT in their own unique ways, I wanted to express my thoughts on this video-game genre. During the last decade, the academic community have expressed various views on MMORPGs. But why would academics care about a video game that much? In 2004 an MMORPG called World of Warcraft emerged. At its peak this game had more than 10 million active players. Its popularity and the capabilities that some people identify made this game a controversial topic. Some exalted this genre and acknowledged its affordances for language learning while others argued that the possible dangers coming with those games like the fact that it promotes violence, cannot make it qualify as a game that fosters language learning. In this post, I will briefly explain those games' mechanics in order to move on an activity that could be used in an English language course and finally identify its advantages and limitations.

What are the MMORPGs?

For this part I will borrow Steinkuehler definition of Massively multi-player online games: 

Massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs) are highly graphical 2- or 3-D video games played online, allowing individuals, through their self-created digital characters or “avatars”, to interact not only with the gaming software (the designed environment of the game and the computer-controlled characters within it) but with other players’ avatars as well. These virtual worlds are persistent social and material worlds, loosely structured by open-ended (fantasy) narratives, where players are largely free to do as they please-slay ogres, siege castles, barter good in town, or shake the fruit of tree (2004:2).

A typical start of an MMORPG involves creating a character> arming yourself with a weapon> killing some monsters> scavenge them> sell the material that you scavenged> upgrade your weapons and armor etc. What is more, players can carry out tasks also known as quests in order to make their avatars stronger, casually communicate with other people, as well cooperate with them in order to achieve higher difficulty quests. 

Example activity

This activity can take place either inside a classroom or from the students's homes. It consists of a series of goal oriented tasks which gradually lead to learners using higher order skills in order to carry out the tasks. Last but not least, the tasks' can be done in every MMORPGs. This is because, the basic mechanics as explained above are common to every MMORPGs. Therefore I will not use real places and the tasks are meant to be changed depending on the MMORPG that each teacher will use

To begin with, the teacher and students need to have their characters placed in the same area of the virtual world. Then the teacher can either hand in a or e-mail depending on where this takes place, a handout with different tasks that students need to carry out in-game.

Some tasks could be the following (this is just an example of tasks, there are thousands of things that can be done in MMORPGs):

  • Go to X area and kill a dozen boars
  • scavenge their fur
  • try to sell the fur to other players
  • Get into a group and travel to the X area
  • In this area there is a wooden hut. You need to find it and search for a potion.
  • Give the potion to player with the least health.
  • Now as a group you need to hunt the wild boar that terrorized the people who live in this hut
  • Share the loot according to your needs
After finishing this quest, students can be asked to evaluate this quest based on how interesting or helpful for their character's progress was. After doing this for a few weeks students should be able to recognize some of the target language that is used in those quests. Therefore, after a while they should be start composing their own quests which after being reviewed by the teacher, could be the next quest for the classroom. After completing them students could peer-review them and so on.

The teacher's job during the quest is to monitor the students so as to be sure that they follow the tasks. We could also provide help in case students have any difficulty in understanding any of the tasks. Also language help in tasks that learners will have to other players that do not belong in our classroom and finally to make sure that students' in-game behaviour is appropriate.

Pedagogical value

The level of accomplishment in those games largely depend on working within a group as opposed to playing individually. In order to be able to work within a group you need to be able to communicate with your group. Considering the fact that the dominant language in MMORPGs is English, players, in order to progress within the game, need to become competent in using English. To achieve communication between players, the game provides chat channels.

Looking at the tasks I created one can say that the element of group work is quite prominent. In a number of occasion learners will have to communicate in order complete the tasks. For example, during the task which asks learners to find the hut, I would expect that some of the students will give directions to the others either because they follow their intuition or because the have been in this area before. In the last three tasks group work is unavoidable. The reason for that is that the wild boar will be way stronger their characters. Therefore they will need follow some strategy which they will have to negotiate it beforehand,  in order to ensure that every player knows his role in the team.

I also suggested some tasks that can happen outside the game. This idea is not new at all. Asda Story which is another MMORPG  gives players the privilege to write their own quest. This could be far more complex than my quest. It could include a story and various objectives along with directions and maybe rewards for completing it. Then after other players finish this quest Asda story ask those players to evaluate the quest and give their suggestions. Therefore, if you are using Asda story there is no need to prepare this exercise as it is already implemented into the game. In other games though this could be done as a separate exercise.

I believe that this series of tasks move smoothly from the lower order thinking skills to higher. At first learners need to experience the game, understand and memorise its mechanics until the build a level of familiarity with it. Then when they are ready they will move to evaluation where they can evaluate my quests in order move to the highest order skill which is to create their own quests.

At this end of this activity, learners will have practised their writing skills, their ability to negotiate meaning and find solutions in issues that they may face all as a part of a group.

Issues and Limitations

First of all, in order to be able to run the game a laptop/desktop is needed. In case this is happening in a class students will need to have a laptop if the institution cannot provide them. What is more, an internet connection is essential. Concerning the game, there are free MMORPGs like the Asda story I mentioned earlier; therefore learners are not obliged to buy a game.

A limitation often found in those games originates from the absence of any oral communication. From my experience, I have not encountered a MMORPG that features voice communication technology. Therefore communication only happens through chat channels. This issue can be easily tackled if the game session takes place in a classroom. However, if students play from their homes, it will be more challenging to have students speak to each other apart from writing. This can be done with various software, but it takes time to set them up money to use them.


Steinkuehler, C. A. (2004) ‘Learning in massively multiplayer online games’. In Kafai, Y., B., Sandoval, W., A., Enyedy, N., Nixon, A., S., Herrera, F., (ed.), Proceedings of the Sixth International Conference of the Learning Sciences, ‘International Society of the Learning Sciences’. Mahwah: Erlbaum, 521-528

1 comment:

  1. It is a great idea especially for teachers who want to motivate boys. However, it will be a big challenge for those female teachers who are totally bad at playing games like me.