The exploration of language appropriation strategies in the context of gaming


We are excited to share the first of two guest posts from Raúl Alberto Mora (Ph.D., Language & Literacy, University of Illinois). Mora is an Associate Professor of English Education and Literacy Studies at Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana (UPB) in Medellín, Colombia. At UPB, he chairs the Literacies in Second Languages Project (LSLP), a research initiative exploring new and 21st century literacies in urban, virtual, and community spaces in Medellín. His research agenda combines ideas from alternative literacies, discourse analysis, and transmedia.

This post was written  with the assistance of the LSLP Gaming Literacies Team

Gaming research has gained traction in recent years. Questions about the literacy practices that take place in the context of videogames (in particular MMORPGs) have also found a niche in the field. One area of interest that seemed as rather uncharted territory, however, was the language strategies that second-language gamers employed as they participated in multiple gaming genres. How different were the language needs as gamers approached these genres? What purposes did gamers set for their use of, in the case of our inquiries, a second language? Those were some of the larger questions that our research team at the Literacies in Second Languages Project (LSLP) has embarked upon since 2014.

As we set out to do our research, we first tackled the issue of the relationship between gaming and second languages. As my fellow researchers (all of whom are hardcore gamers, specialized in four different genres) explained, gamers develop the need for the second language (e.g. English) and not really the other way around. After this initial query, there was another question: Why do gamers need to rely on English in their games? Two answers came to mind: On the one hand, not every game out there has, in our case, a Spanish version. On the other hand, the answer was even more straightforward: Gamers need English to win the game. This implies that gamers must, in addition to mastering the game itself, they needed to understand the specific language needs of the game or genre at hand, in terms of vocabulary, expressions, and verbal interactions to play the game. This specific combination of language needs in the context of games comprised a notion that we have coined as Language as Victory, or LaV (cfr. Hernandez & Castaño, 2015 for a working definition).

Since 2014, relying on autoethnographic data from our four gamer-researchers, screenshots, and interviews, we have characterized the different language appropriation strategies in four genres: Flight Simulators, First-Person Shooters (FPS), Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPG), and Multiplayer Online Battle Arenas (MOBA). We have realized that every genre poses unique challenges to gamers: Some genres, such as Flight Simulators require the mastery of very technical vocabulary directly aimed at ensuring flight capability. FPS, on the other hand, requires simpler, shorter commands for communication. The language in MMORPG and MOBA genres also relies on commands, but depending on the game, there will be a need for more elaborate communication. Another thing that we have discovered is that gaming genres work in a similar way to literary genres or even registers: language strategies from FPS or MOBA, for instance, may not translate too well into Flight Simulators. Gamers, therefore, must develop specific metacognitive strategies for each genre. One final feature that we are currently analyzing in our data is the more distinct strategies that happen across different stages of each game. Early data analysis seems to show that language strategies will vary at the beginning, middle, and final stages of each game.

We are currently profiling our next stage of research, where we will move language appropriation strategies from the games themselves into the gaming communities. We have also begun to propose pedagogical models to translate LaV into language classroom practices. As we envision it, LaV as a concept has plenty of potential to offer both within the gaming realm and into actual classroom practices.

Author’s Note: This post shares information about the research study Second Language Literacies, Video Games, and Gaming: A Digital Ethnography, project approved by the Center for Research, Development and Innovation (CIDI) at Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana, Sede Central Medellín (Project code 515B-11/15-S80). Special thanks and all the credit go to the LSLP student researchers Sebastián Castaño, Michael Hernandez, Tyrone Steven Orrego, and Daniel Ramírez, for their valuable insights and hard work in developing this study.

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