the best of qualities is dispassion

Off-the-Shelf Adventure Videogames and Foreign Language Learning Cycle 4


Screenshot from Bone

I am preparing to teach English in Asia and, therefore, have an interest in digital devices that can support students in their English language acquisition. Because I will be primarily teaching English as a Foreign Language (EFL) where most students will not be afforded the opportunity to be immersed in an English language environment I have been searching for tools that can offer an immersive setting. English language adventure videogames are one instrument that can offer this type of environment through gameplay. Research conducted by Chen and Yang (2012) at the National Taiwan Normal University analyze the value of such videogames for EFL learners and present their findings in the paper I will critique for this learning cycle.

Chen and Yang (2012) conducted two separate studies using the Off-the-Shelf (OTS) English adventure videogame Bone which was evaluated for its efficacy, as well as the overall game design and gaming experience for language learning. I wish to underscore the point that Bone is “not” an English learning videogame but instead an OTS adventure videogame. The study participants were college students in Taiwan.

In the first study which targeted vocabulary gains twenty-two, non-English major freshman college students played Bone for 1.5 hours. The participants were divided into two groups with one group being advised to take notes while the other group was only given the game playing instructions. Both groups were given pre and post-play vocabulary tests that tested for twenty vocabulary items found in the videogame. Due to time constraints, the students in this study were not able to fully explore the videogame (Chen & Yang, 2012).

In the second study, researchers investigated learner’s perceptions towards Bone and its adventure game theme as a language learning device. In this study thirty-five, freshman students who were enrolled in an English course were permitted to explore the entire videogame in their leisure time. At the end of their explorations, the students were asked to prepare a short written report and answer a questionnaire, where they offered their opinions on game design, features, and Bone’s overall usefulness for language learning (Chen & Yang, 2012).

Chen and Yang (2012) explained that the results for Study One showed no significant difference in the vocabulary gains between note takers and non-note takers. Researchers reported that many of the note takers abandoned their note taking as play intensified, which likely impacted the results. Although both groups did experience minor vocabulary gains, the gains were limited. Researchers argued that the short gaming period may account for these limited gains and that further research is warranted.

The results of study Two were more interesting as the students reported that playing Bone did help them improve their listening ability, reading ability, and vocabulary knowledge. The researchers further reported that participants felt that gameplay “… enhanced their listening and reading comprehension, and some mentioned an increase in reading speed after gaming. Eleven students reported an increase in vocabulary size” (Chen & Yang, 2012). Students went on to explain that the game had a positive effect on their learning attitudes and provided them with an all-English environment, which they found valuable. One significant complaint was that students had no means to control the spoken and subtitle speeds, which caused them some difficulty in comprehension and diminished the value of the experience (Chen & Yang, 2012).

I found this research to be very valuable and of great interest to me personally. I would certainly like to see Study One repeated where the students are permitted to play the game for more of the 1.5-hour sessions and then measure their vocabulary gains, which I argue would be quite significant. The most important fact I gleaned from Study Two was the need for students to be able to regulate the speed of spoken dialogue as well as subtitles. I was encouraged to learn that many participants reported that Bone improved their overall motivation and offered them an English-only environment, which they highly valued.


Chen, H. H., & Yang, T. C. (2013). The impact of adventure video games on foreign language learning and the perceptions of learners. Interactive Learning Environments, 21(2), 129-141. doi:10.1080/10494820.2012.705851

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