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It is an undeniable fact that narrative writing is one of the most difficult concepts to teach in an English writing class. One of the objectives of the KBSM English curriculum (2000) states that students should be able to ‘listen, view, read and respond to different texts, and express ideas, opinions, thoughts and feelings imaginatively and creatively in spoken and written form’. Thus, narrative writing has become a staple question in the Continuous Writing section of Paper 1 for the English SPM examination. Despite the 9 years of writing experience the students had, majority of the students in Malaysia are still making serious writing errors in their narrative essay. These errors are mostly linguistic errors but errors made in writing mechanics are equally as damaging.
Since the KBSM curriculum’s inception, teachers all around the country and even educators in universities have been trying to prescribe a methodology on teaching writing. However, only a small minority would turn to Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL) as a possible solution and how many would actually realize that youths of this generation are very much technologically savvy? By exploiting this trend, we might be able to integrate technology into the classroom on a whole new level, beyond the initial theories of CALL. Video games, a form of entertainment enjoyed by youths and adults alike hold a well of potential in aiding language learning. In this research, I will be looking at how playing a specific genre of video games will influence the narrative writing skills of a Malaysian ESL learner.
Background of Problem
Video games are a big part of the lives of students all around the world. Based on the yearly hardware sales statistics released by VGChartz.com, 28.4 million gaming consoles were sold as of July 2010 and 12% of the consoles were sold in the Asian region (excluding Japan). Additionally, The Entertainment Software Association (2010) estimated about 25% of worldwide gamers are below 18 years of age. By synergizing both statistics, it has become an undeniable fact that students below 18 years of age would have played some form of video game. This opened a well of potential where language learning elements could be integrated into video games. According to Salisch, Oppl and Kristen (2006), educational games can improve a child’s knowledge in nearly all subjects including reading, speaking, listening and writing skills in the child’s native language. Thus, it could be said that video games play a significant role in enriching a learner’s writing ability as video game stories are usually narrative driven to immerse the player into its story.
Currently, teachers in Malaysia are still apprehensive about the usage of Computer Assisted Language Learning tools in the classroom. The failure of English for the Teaching of Mathematics and Science is one of the testaments to this fact. Countless CALL courseware were developed but not fully utilized by the teacher. Teachers in Malaysia still prefer to use traditional teaching methods of chalk and talk over technology-aided teaching methods. The true potential of CALL has yet to be fully tapped by English teachers in Malaysia. The ineffectiveness of current English teaching methodologies could perhaps be that the students, being technologically savvy, find the traditional lessons boring, uninteresting and not stimulating. Teachers who refuse to embrace the technological culture of the students such as the Internet and video games may have missed out on the various benefits these tools could potentially offer.
In this study, I will be using the action-adventure video game developed by the award winning developer, Naughty Dog Inc., entitled ‘UNCHARTED 2: Among Thievesâ„¢’ exclusively for the PlayStation® 3 gaming console. This game has been dubbed as one of the best action adventure titles ever developed for the PlayStation®3 console. According to Arne Meyer (2010), a Community Strategist of Naughty Dog Inc, ‘UNCHARTED 2: Among Thievesâ„¢’ has sold over 3.8 million copies worldwide and has won numerous Game of The Year award. This game featured dramatic in-game events that will make the player an active participant in the cinematic experience and its gaming engine, designed specifically for the PlayStation3 console, successfully captured human emotions for in-game portrayal. This feature of the game made it unique and set it apart from all the other video games of the same genre.
This research seeks to address some of the pressing issues in the grey area of video games and language learning through extended interaction with a commercially available video game. Can playing a video game really help students in acquiring certain language skill? More specifically, this research is designed to examine learning from games by evaluating what teenagers in Form 4 learn by playing an existing, off the shelf, commercially available electronic video game: ‘UNCHARTED 2: Among Thievesâ„¢’. The game ‘Uncharted 2: Among Thievesâ„¢’ was developed to entertain, but can also be used to teach narrative writing due to its immersive game play experience and narrative structure.
The current generation of ESL learners in Malaysia is growing up in an increasingly technologically advanced world. In a generation where traditional learning methods are becoming obsolete, teachers of ESL would need to shift their paradigms to accept modern teaching methods which revolved around technology itself. Over the past few years, research in Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL) has been impactful and it has become an established fact that language acquisition through CALL methods are very much successful in the current generation of ESL learners. However, proponents of CALL have yet to develop a method which specifically targets the narrative writing ability of an ESL learner. Researchers and teachers would agree that the narrative skill is the trickiest skill to teach in an ESL classroom as narrative writing required a high level of creative thinking. But, many researchers failed to consider an important tool in their research: video games. Although numerous research have been done on the effects of video games on a child’s psychological development and learning, little or none have focused on its effects on an ESL learner’s narrative writing ability, especially in a local context. Because of this, video games are not fully exploited for their wealth in language teaching.
The general perception of video games in the older generation is that video games do not contribute anything to the educational development of a child. Video games are seen as distracting, un-educational, and unhealthy. It was often blamed for causing students to perform badly in their studies. These misconceptions are further aggravated by the numerous researches which seemed to connect video games and violent behavior in children. These factors caused video games to be stigmatized and overlooked as a potential language learning tool. However, recent studies concluded that there are no real correlation between playing video games and negative behavior development among children; some children even performed better than their non-game playing peers (Durkin & Barber, 2002). It would be interesting to study at the extent of linguistic improvement influenced by the video game and the factors causing it as current studies have yet to find a solid correlation between video game playing and narrative writing skill development.
Most ESL learners’ acquisition of an L2 from video games is accidental. This means, the games were not designed with language learning as its goal, rather, the game was written with the sole objective of immersing the player into the story and making them forget that they are actually playing the game (Dansky 2007). This created a pseudo-immersion environment where the learner’s L2 (in this case, English) is used was the main medium of communication as the entire game is presented in English. Professional game writers are usually unaware of the fact that the narrative structure they applied in their game script are being subconsciously absorbed by players to develop narrative writing structures of their own. Since most Malaysian parents and educators do not play nor understand video games, they are not aware that video games are embedded with a rich narrative structure which could be transferred to its players.
Most parents and educators often complained that kids nowadays are spending too much time playing video games. They felt that video games are not relevant to a kid’s academic progress and that time is better spent doing something more productive. These opinions stemmed from the fact that adults are simply reluctant to accept the emergence of new technologies and unwilling to break out of the traditional ‘safe-zones’ based on theories and methods which worked well over the years. Parents and educators alike needed to be informed on the potential of video games enhancing language acquisition and to be taught how to use this tool effectively. Once they learn to see through their child’s eyes, they will finally break the stigma which plagued video games for years.
There is also a continuing confusion between edutainment software and commercial video games. Edutainment software were designed in the 1980s and falls under type 2 of Communicative CALL. Many ESL teachers were either not convinced or unaware that edutainment software designed under the Communicative CALL phase is able to improve an ESL learner’s language acquisition. Moreover, these software are often expansive and were highly dependent on increasingly improving computer hardware, thus, edutainment software had been shunned by the teaching community in general. Now, with the emergence of commercial gaming, teachers of ESL will be able to exploit commercial video games to enrich their classroom. Hardware problems which plagued edutainment were made obsolete with gaming consoles and teachers no longer have to obtain a license to use the software in the classroom due to the Fair Use clause under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DCMA). ESL teachers would have to understand that edutainment software and commercial software are separate entities and that commercial video games are just as educational as its edutainment counterpart. Besides, commercial video games have a greater potential of enhancing language acquisition compared to edutainment software as the majority of edutainment software focused on all subject but English and it is still designed with drill and practice methodologies in mind; an outdated approach in the ELT world.
Purpose of Research
The purpose of this research is to identify the elements in the narrative structure used in action-adventure video games in relation to general ESL narrative. Apart from that, this study also aims to examine the influence of action-adventure video games in learners of ESL’s narrative writing ability.
Objectives of Research
There are two objectives in this research. It aims to:-
identify the elements in the narrative structure used in action adventure video games in relation to general ESL narrative.
examine the influence of action adventure video games in learners of ESL’s narrative writing ability.
The following are the research questions that I will look into:-
what are the elements in the narrative structure used in action adventure video games in relation to general ESL narrative?
how would action adventure video games influence an ESL learner’s narrative writing ability?
Scope of Research
This research will be done on 5 selected Form 4 male students of Maktab Sultan Abu Bakar (English College) JB and would be investigating the influence of action-adventure video games on their narrative writing ability by focusing on the narrative structures used in their written narrative.
Significance of Research
The impact the research may bring is that in the future, professionals from both the academic and video game industry may be able to clearly distinguish between edutainment games and commercial video games. An avenue of future collaboration to produce a game which is both enjoyable and written using pedagogical theories of language learning could be done to sublimely integrate language learning pedagogy with commercial video games. Fusing both the gaming industry and the academic industry would open up an ocean of learning opportunities for both professionals to further innovate in their fields. Game designers would be able to design a game which still held true to the game design philosophy of making games fun, engaging, interactive and cinematic and at the same time, making the game a well of language teaching resources for language practitioners. Language teachers may also benefit from future collaborations with game writers as they will be able to impart their narrative writing knowledge to be taught in schools.
Apart from that, hopefully from the fruitful nature of this research, teachers of ESL would realize that playing video games are not just a waste of time. Teachers could harness the potential of video games to incorporate a video game into the classroom by having the students writing reflective journals to chronicle their gaming experience and that written and oral assignments could be given based on the played game. Learners of ESL would no longer find English as a boring subject to learn as video games would stimulate their interest and their acquisition of L2 may be hastened with the background knowledge activated. Teachers of ESL could also experiment with the different genres of commercial video games available in the market to find new dynamic resources to develop teaching materials and lessons. These endless possibilities would essentially remove the stigmatization of video games among teachers of ESL in Malaysia to further exploit the full potential of video games as an interactive language learning tool.
Last but not least, this research would open up new possibilities and means of providing meaningful and engaging content through an electronic medium, hence, broadening the scope and implementation of Computer Assisted Language Learning in Malaysia. CALL’s development in Malaysia boomed with the government’s English for the Teaching of Mathematics and Science (ETMS). But, it is again put on a stagnant hold as the government reversed the policy in 2009. This research, if done correctly, would be able to kick start CALL’s development in Malaysia and possibly launch Malaysia into video game design. Once the teaching community recognized the potential of commercial video games, game developers in Malaysia would gain the motivation to produce high quality games which are suitable to the Malaysian context, retaining the very aspects which made commercially successful video games fun and engaging, at the same time imbued with educational goals as stated in the National Education Philosophy.
Limitations of Research.
As this is a small scale research, it is bound to have its limitations. This research uses an experimental research design with a purposive sampling method; selecting only 5 respondents, the results derived from this study might not represent the general population. This is due to the hardware limitation of the study which only allows for 2 PlayStation®3 console to be used throughout the 6 week study (budget constrains), limiting the number of participants in order to meet the 6 week period. Also, this research will only be taking in Form 4 male students of Maktab Sultan Abu Bakar (English College)JB, thus, the effects of the video game would have on female students could not be done due to the gender selection. Lastly, I’m focusing only on the structure of the narrative essay produced by the respondents. So, this research would not be able to determine the effects of video game in other areas of language learning such as vocabulary acquisition, grammar enhancement, oral skills etc.
Definition of Terms
Action-adventure games combine elements of their two component genres, action and adventure. Typically featuring long-term obstacles that must be overcome using a tool or item as leverage, as well as many smaller obstacles almost constantly in the way, that require elements of action games to overcome. Action-adventure games tend to focus on exploration and usually involve item gathering, simple puzzle solving, and combat.
A narrative is essentially a story that is created in a constructive format that describes a sequence of fictional or non-fictional events.
Video Game Narrative
Video game narrative is the component of storytelling within the video game’s script. It serves as a method by which the story materials are communicated to the audience.
In video game design, the story is what actually happens in the course of the game which can be differentiated from its game mechanics and be translated into a narrative.
The backstory details the history prior to the events of the game and it provides the answer to the question “What happened previously?” and “What caused this situation to happen?”
Immersion is defined in video game design as the state of mind where a person is completely absorbed in what they are doing. This is the ultimate goal in every game narrative as total immersion allows the players to be absorbed into the story and allows maximum entertainment experience.
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