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Collaborative Gameplay as a Site for


Participation and Situated Learning of a
Second Language
a b
Arja PiirainenMarsh & Liisa Tainio
a
University of Jyvskyl
b
University of Helsinki
Published online: 06 Apr 2009.

To cite this article: Arja PiirainenMarsh & Liisa Tainio (2009) Collaborative Gameplay as a Site
for Participation and Situated Learning of a Second Language, Scandinavian Journal of Educational
Research, 53:2, 167-183, DOI: 10.1080/00313830902757584

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Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research
Vol. 53, No. 2, April 2009, 167183

Collaborative Game-play as a Site for Participation and Situated Learning of


a Second Language
Arja PiirainenMarsh
University of Jyvaskyla
Liisa Tainio
University of Helsinki
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This paper addresses additional language learning as rooted in participation in the


social activity of collaborative game-play. Building on a social-interactional view of
learning, it analyses some of the detailed practices through which players attend to a
video game as the material and semiotic structure that shapes play and creates
affordances for additional language learning. We describe how players engage with the
language resources offered by the game, drawing on the vocabulary, constructions,
prosodic features and utterances modelled on game dialogue, in building their own
actions during collaborative play. With these resources, the players display their
ongoing engagement with the game as well as their competences in recognising,
reproducing and creatively reshaping the available linguistic resources in their own
activities.
Keywords: computer and video games, second language acquisition, interactional
practices

The importance of computer games in modern society has led to a growing awareness
of the potential of games for learning (Arnseth, 2006; Gee, 2003, 2004; Mitchell & Savill-
Smith, 2004; Squire, 2003). While critics condemn games and gaming on the basis of their
negative effects (e.g. aggression: Buckingham, 2000), enthusiasts stress their benefits for
developing new kinds of learning environments, even new theories of learning (Shaffer,
Squire, Halverston, & Gee, 2005).
Approaching learning as part of the interconnected networks of people, tools,
technologies, and communities, Gee (2003) argues that (good) video games are designed in
such a way that they enhance learning through enabling active and critical engagement
with the game. Games situate meaning in a multimodal space and enable the players to
solve problems through embodied experiences (Gee, 2003). In Gees view, games also
enable the players to construct new identities and relationships, display a wide array of
competences, participate in new kinds of social practices, and develop situated
understandings of concepts and phenomena. While learning about the ways in which
the semiotic domain (of games) is designed and presented, players not only master
participation in practices of affinity groups connected to the domain, but are also
involved in critical learning in that they develop an ability to consciously attend to, reflect

Arja PiirainenMarsh, University of Jyvaskyla, Finland; Liisa Tainio, University of Helsinki, Finland.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Arja PiirainenMarsh, Department
of Languages, P.O. Box 35, 40014 University of Jyvaskyla, Finland. E-mail: apiirain@campus.jyu.fi
ISSN 0031-3831 print/ISSN 1470-1170 online
2009 Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research
DOI: 10.1080/00313830902757584
http://www.informaworld.com
168 PIIRAINENMARSH AND TAINIO

on, critique, and manipulate features (design grammars) of the game at a metalevel
(Gee, 2003).
In spite of the debate concerning the learning potential of games, few studies have
investigated game-playing as a social activity or examined the contexts where different
types of games are used and experienced (Arnseth, 2006). This paper attempts to answer
recent calls of such studies by analysing the detailed practices through which players
manage and engage with a console-operated video game during a collaborative play
activity. Our aim is to explore what kinds of opportunities such a gaming activity offers
for additional language learning through attending to, drawing on and adapting the
language resources made available by the game. While we agree with Gees view that
games by design foster learning, potentially at several levelse.g. learning skills required
in game-play, learning to manage the game-world through mastery of relevant concepts
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and phenomenaour approach differs from his account in that our aim is not to look for
forms of learning built into the design of games. Rather, this study focuses on the detailed
ways in which players attend to the semiotic resources offered by the game and make them
relevant to their own actions in participating in social play. We believe that analysis of the
microlevel practices through which players attend to the game and draw on its resources in
their own action can offer insight into the situated learning processes that take place in
gaming activities.
In accordance with recent studies taking an emic, interaction-based perspective to
additional language learning, also known as CA-for-SLA (Markee & Kasper, 2004), this
study approaches learning as rooted in the learners participation in social practice and
continuous adaptation to the unfolding circumstances and activities that constitute
interaction (Mondada & Pekarek Doehler, 2004). Grounded in a social view of learning as
situated practice (see e.g. Lave & Wenger, 1991; Saljo, 2000; Wenger, 1998) and an
ethnomethodological focus on socially achieved, distributed practices (Firth & Wagner,
2007; Markee, 2008), this approach views learning as embedded in the fabric of social
activity and the discursive practices through which this activity is constituted. The social-
interactional approach shares many of the key assumptions found in other interactionist
and practice oriented perspectives that characterise learning as a dynamic, embodied, and
situated process whereby learners assemble and adapt their language resources in response
to changing environments in different social activities (e.g. Block, 2003; Larsen-Freeman,
2007; Thorne, 2008; van Lier, 2002, 2004). Following van Liers (2002, 2004) ecological
perspective of learning, the different discursive activities in which learners participate,
offer different types of potential affordances,1 properties of the environment that are
available for learners as active, perceiving organisms in that environment, and may be
used in interaction. The way in which such affordances arise and may be identified and
appropriated by learners requires detailed analysis of interactions. The social-interactional
approach relies on Conversation Analysis (CA) as the analytic method for this task.
What distinguishes the social-interactional approach from theoretically driven
accounts of learning is its analytic focus on interactional activities in all their complexity
and a commitment to identifying and describing the sets of resources and detailed
practices through which activities are organised and made sense of. In line with this

1
Van Lier draws on Gibsons understanding of affordance as the fit between an animals
capabilities and the environmental opportunities and constraints that make possible a given activity
(Gibson & Pick, 2000).
COLLABORATIVE GAME-PLAY 169

approach, the focus of our analysis is not on any particular linguistic patterns as learning
objects, but, rather, on the kinds of affordances for learning that emerge in the process of
participating in collaborative play while attending to relevant features of the game as the
material and semiotic structure which shapes interaction in the setting.
The empirical data for this study comes from game sessions that took place between
two 13-year-old boys, whose first language is Finnish, at the home of one of the players.
The boys were involved in playing Final Fantasy X, a Japanese fantasy role-play game
translated and localised into English. The data is drawn from a larger set including 13
hours of interactions of Finnish teenage boys playing video games. During game-play the
players are required to interpret short English texts (e.g. menus, instructions, commands,
dialogue). The game characters speech is presented in voice-over dialogue and subtitles on
the screen, making both English speech and text local resources, embedded in the
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continually changing contextual configurations (Goodwin, 2000) that shape participation


in the activity.
In addition to building on previous studies in the field of CA-for-SLA, the analysis is
informed by research on interaction mediated by technology (see Arminen, 2005;
Hutchby, 2000), which highlights the need to investigate the processes and practices of
interaction through which people draw on the semiotic and material resources of
technology in carrying out social tasks and activities (see also Goodwin, 2000, 2003; Heath
& Luff, 2000). Computer games have been defined as rule-based systems which provide
the framework for play (Burn & Schott, 2004). In this study, the game is seen to provide
the material structure with which the players interact through making choices available to
them. On the other hand, the game is realised through multiple communicative modes
(animation, visual design, music, text, and sound), thus offering a complex, temporally
unfolding set of semiotic resources that the players attend to while participating in play
(Goodwin, 2000). The use of languagein this case two co-available languagesis thus
examined in the context of the available participation frameworks (see, e.g., Goodwin &
Goodwin, 1992) through which the players display to each other their understanding of
unfolding events and build actions that shape the trajectory of the event. This paper
examines how the participants draw on their bodies, the sequential structures of talk, and
linguistic choices, in particular the locally available bilingual resources, to display their
level of engagement with the game and their orientation to the material and social setting
at hand. It is through these practices that players participate in and constitute the social
activity of playing, construct their interpretations of the game, and organise their
experience of game-play as a meaningful social and situated learning activity.

Games and Learning


Games and play have long been recognized as central to processes of learning and
development (Cook, 2000; Lantolf & Thorne, 2006; Rogoff, 1990). The role of play and
playfulness in language learning has also received attention in recent research (Belz &
Reinhardt, 2004; Broner & Tarone, 2001; Cekaite & Aronsson, 2005; Sullivan, 2000).
Empirical studies on computer games and game-playing have considered affective,
social, and cognitive, factors that may enhance the development of skills and
competences required in game-play and similar complex activities. Extended experience
of playing computer games has been found to shape attention processes and develop
certain skills required by games, for instance the ability to selectively direct attention to
170 PIIRAINENMARSH AND TAINIO

relevant information, and the ability to switch rapidly between response options
(Bialystok, 2006).
Studies focusing on social aspects of game-playing, on the other hand, have begun to
show how players use games and create meanings in the process of engaging in play. For
example, Schott and Kambouri (2006) show that during game play in groups, the
participants adopt different roles, with experts guiding and supporting novices in
managing the game, so that group play could be described as having a scaffolding
function. Routarinne (forthcoming) suggests that collaborative play creates opportunities
for enjoying the game and learning through the procedure of playing and negotiating
about choices during the activity.
In his study of gaming as an interactional activity, Linderoth (2004) examines the
sensemaking practices of children involved in playing various computer games. He
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describes how children coordinate and make sense of each others actions when managing
the game, and shows how games provide varied opportunities for involvement and
immersion in the simulated game worlds. According to Gee (2003), it is this type of
involvement that lies at the heart of the learning potential of games: games combine
doing and learning, and learning and identity, offering players opportunities to
experimentin a situated and embodied waywith new identities at the intersection of
the real world and the virtual world.
Although numerous studies have addressed the use of technologies, especially Internet
communication technologies in second language education, the study of gaming as a site
for learning additional languages is only beginning to emerge. Thorne (2008) examines
multiplayer online videogames as an environment for a temporary immersion into a new
linguistic, cultural, and task-based setting, and hence as an environment for learning
additional languages. Online games, in his view, may turn out to be de rigueur sites for
language learning (Thorne, 2008, p. 439) and the premier L2 educational technology.
Piirainen-Marsh and Tainio (forthcoming) analyse a collaborative gaming activity
focusing on one type of interactional practice, repetition, and imitation of game
characters speech, as the participants resource for attending to meaningful events, co-
constructing understandings, and for adapting linguistic resources of the game for their
own interactional ends. They argue that this practice is one of the methods through which
participants create opportunities for learning another language. This work contributes to
a growing body of research that examines additional language learning in interaction (see
e.g. Gardner & Wagner, 2004; Lafford, 2007; Markee & Kasper, 2004). In shedding light
on technologically mediated settings where participants are engaged in voluntary activity
using a second language, these studies broaden the data base of research in this area,
which has been dominated by studies of interaction in the classroom (e.g. Hall, 2004;
Hellerman, 2007) with other types of settings still in the minority (but see Brouwer &
Wagner, 2004; Firth, 1996; Kurhila, 2006).

Social-Interactional Approach to Learning


In recent years the field of second language learning (SLA) has witnessed a split
between traditional cognitive approaches, which put linguistic forms at the centre of
learning, and sociocultural and social-interactional directions, which examine learning as
a social and contextualized phenomenon (Markee & Kasper, 2004). Firth and Wagner
(2007) capture the essence of the social approach as follows: Compared with
COLLABORATIVE GAME-PLAY 171

mainstream cognitive SLA, such work centrally locates and thematizes the contingent,
the contextual, the ad hoc-ness, the interrelatedness of linguistic and situational
elements, and the unsystematicity inherent in processes underlying L2 learning-factors
that have been at worst overlooked and at best downgraded in importance in more
traditional SLA research (p. 806). One of the key issues raised by Firth and Wagner
(2007) in their critique of mainstream SLA research is the dichotomy between language
acquisition and language use. In their view language acquisition is built on use. In a
similar vein Markee (2008) stresses the need to investigate interactional practices that
may achieve language learning behaviour understood as a socially distributed activity
that takes place in the intersubjective space located between the participants. Placing
analytic focus on observable discursive practices does not mean rejecting the cognitive
dimension: as Markee (2008) points out, many of the interactional phenomena studied
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are analyzable as micro-moments of socially distributed cognition (see also te Molder


& Potter, 2005).
This paper builds on previous work taking a social and distributed view of learning
as embedded in participation in the social practices of particular encounters and
communities (Lave & Wenger, 1991; Saljo, 2000; van Lier, 2002, 2004; Wenger, 1998).
The analysis is carried out within a social-interactional framework (see Firth &
Wagner, 2007; Mondada & Pekarek Doehler, 2004) where learning is seen as an
inseparable part of social activities and embedded in the structures of interaction in
specific settings, and analysed with the help of the conceptual and methodological
framework of CA. In order to shed light on learning in and through social activity, the
approach is also informed by research on language socialization and social-cultural
theories of learning and social action (e.g. Goodwin, 2000; Lantolf & Thorne, 2006;
Tomasello, 2003; Vygotsky, 1986). Like other recent work in this area, we aim to show
how participants adapt to and make sense of the complex, multimodal social activity
through the situated use of linguistic, interactional and embodied resources. We
investigate how players orient to the language of the game (English) as a key resource
among the multiple semiotic fields afforded by the game in building their own actions
through which they manage and experience the game. This study does not focus on any
particular linguistic pattern as learning object, nor does it claim to present evidence of
learning in the sense of observable development over time. Rather, it describes the
interactional opportunities and affordances for learning that arise in the course of the
activity and the competences displayed by participants in co-constructing meaningful
social activity. These, we believe, can give insight into the situated practices of learning
and apprenticeship through which players develop their expertise as competent players
and members of the gaming community.

Collaborative Game-Play as an Environment for Learning


In the following, we demonstrate how playing a fantasy role play game creates
different types of interactional opportunities for the players to engage with the language
resources of the game (English) while participating in collaborative play. These resources
include short written texts displayed on the screen and the avatars dialogue presented
both in written subtitles and voice-overs. These elements are available to the players as
local resources, which they can draw upon in their own actions while negotiating choices
of the game or commenting on scenes in the game world. For example, the players read
172 PIIRAINENMARSH AND TAINIO

aloud written instructions, subtitles or other information (Example 1) and use the
game vocabulary in their dialogue (Example 2). They also repeat and imitate parts of the
voice-over dialogue (Example 3). Through prosody and embodied actions connected to
practices of repetition, they also take stances towards scenes in the game world. Further,
the players reproduce and reshape avatars lines (or game instructions, see Example 2),
and use them in new contexts in order to co-construct the narrative (Example 4). Through
participating in the dialogue by memorizing the avatars lines they show their expertise
gained from previous occasions of playing the game. The players also use their own
linguistic knowledge to create new forms of participation by directing their talk to an
avatar or talking as an avatar (Examples 3 and 5). The examples below demonstrate that
the timing of the players verbal actions is crucial in displaying the players competence: by
repeating, anticipating, and recontextualising the avatars lines, or creating their own
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lines, the players demonstrate not only their close attention to detailed features of the
game language, but also the relevance of language expertise to the competent management
and enjoyment of the game.
Before analyzing the examples in more detail, we present a short introduction to the
game world of Final Fantasy X. The game is set in the fictive world of Spira and its plot
centers around a group of adventurers who go on a quest to defeat a rampaging force
known as Sin. The game has seven playable characters and a number of other characters
who support the narrative. One of the playable avatars, Tidus, a young male hero, has
come to Spira from another world to fight against Sin and its evil assistants together with
a team of crusaders. The game offers different kinds of opportunities for participation
for the player. In some scenes the player directs the progression of the game through his
choices (e.g. moving a character or choosing an available option). The narrative scenes are
not playable but offer important information about the avatars and the possible
trajectories of the plot.

Building Action by Voicing Expressions from the Game


During the narrative sequences, the avatars lines are produced as subtitles and most
of them also in voice-overs. The players frequently repeat and imitate especially those lines
that are available as voice-overs (Piirainen-Marsh & Tainio, forthcoming). Most of the
verbal instructions are available only in written form. During collaborative play, these
instructions and other textual information are also often voiced by the players. Voicing
written texts offers one way of participating in ongoing play activity, enabling the players
to display engagement with the game, index actions in game-play, and build collaborative
action.
In the first example Pete and Kapa are looking intensively at a battle scene.2 At the
beginning of the extract Pete, the active player, holds the control in one hand, not playing
but participating vocally in the events. In the scene the Aeon Ifrit, who has been called
for help by the avatar Yuna, attacks the evil monster Sinspawn Gui, Sins assistant. Ifrit is
to some extent playable by the boys. In the beginning of the extract, Gui lands on the
ground after Ifrits previous attack. Pete views the monsters landing, responding to the
action with a vocalization aahhh (line 1). In line 3, Kapa voices written information

2
We are grateful to Jouko Kelomaki for sharing with us his knowledge of (playing) Final Fantasy
X.
COLLABORATIVE GAME-PLAY 173

available on the screen. (In the transcriptions, the players are K 5 Kapa and P 5 Pete; DI
5 (text) on display.)3
Example 1. [011003 / 23:54] (Pete 5 active player)
sg 5 Sinspawn Gui, one of the evil monsters
1 P [ aahhh. ] HAND IN THE MOUTH, OTHER HAND HOLDS THE CONTROL.
2 sg [LANDS ON THE GROUND] DI: Overkill. Overkill.
3R K 5Bqaaa. B (.) ouverkilli.
5 aaa (.) overkill.
The display informs players that through Overkill they have received Overdrive
(special energy and power for future battles) in the course of the battle (line 2). Kapa
receives the information first with a response which echoes Petes preceding vocalisation
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and expresses his appreciation of their success, and then comments on the situation by
reading aloud the information displayed on the screen (line 3). However, the word
overkill is modified according to the Finnish morphological system: an additional i is
added at the end of the word producing a form that is linguistically hybrid. As getting an
Overkill means that the players have succeeded very well in the battle, Kapa thus
celebrates their success with his response.
This example shows how the language resources of the game have an impact on the
vocabulary used during the play activity: the players frequently borrow terms and
concepts from the game while commenting on the events to each other. Vocabulary
adopted from the game is thus a key resource in building the actions through which the
players manage the game and talk about it in the course of play. Frequent and
unproblematic use of English terms, as well as mixed or hybrid language forms, including
pronouncing English expressions according to the Finnish phonological system (Example
2, line 21), shows how the bilingual resources are adopted as part of the players shared
repertoire (see also Leppanen, 2007).
Example 2 demonstrates further how players make use of linguistic elements drawn
from the game in their own dialogue. In line 21, Kapa, the co-player, comments on the
events by using English game terminology as part of his otherwise Finnish turn. In lines 12
and 29, the players use a command drawn from the game in displaying their
understanding of the ongoing action and in shaping the trajectory of play. The example
presents how the scene analysed in Example 1 continues. The monster Gui continues the
battle with Ifrit. During his attack, Gui also uses magic to defeat him (see reference to evil
magic Demi, line 17). Ifrit starts to lose his energy and has to be sent away.
Example 2. [011003 / 23:54] (Pete 5 active player)
sg 5 sinspawn Gui, one of the evil monsters
ai 5 aeon Ifrit, the helper of Yuna
8 K [nyt lahetat po:is tuon.
[now you send that away.
9 P [GRABS THE CONTROL ALSO WITH THE OTHER HAND.
10 P uniin lahetanki.u
I will

3
Transcription conventions follow the tradition of Conversation Analysis (see, e.g., Arminen,
2005), see Appendix.
174 PIIRAINENMARSH AND TAINIO

11 (4.0)
12 R P @ndizmiz@
13 (2.5)
14 K lyo tur:paan viela.
hit him too
15 sg HITS AEON IFRIT.
16 K ei ees kuollu.
didnt even die
17 K haa? (.) ,pulla. DI: Demi.
ha? (.) lucky
18 (0.8) uhihihiu (.)
19 okei.5nyt lahetat sen pois ennen ku se kuolee.
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okey.5 now send it away before it dies.


20 (1.4) DI: 2
21 R wa:u (.) kaks damagee,5nyt se lyo5
wow (.) two damages,5 now hes going to hit
22 P 5ly:o viela .kerran., DI: The arms
hi:t once more regenerated.
23 sg DOES NOT HIT.
24 P e:i lyony.
no he didnt hit.
25 K tuoha on ihan hullu. (0.3) seon aika nopee.
hes quite mad (0.3) hes quite fast.
26 (0.4) DI: Attack an enemy.
27 K po:is, [ADDITIONAL INFORMATION ON DISPLAY.]
off
28 P (1.4) DI: Second aeon away.
29 R K ,udis:miss:u .
30 P MAKES A CHOICE. DI: Dismiss

In this excerpt both players display their expertise by using a command from the game
(dismiss, lines 12, 29) to orient to a choice which is about to become available in game-
play (line 30). Although the options that players can choose in this scene are limited, they
can send Ifrit away to avoid his death. In line 8, Kapa instructs Pete to do so in Finnish
(now you send that away). Kapa seems unaware that the choice cannot be made at this
point. However, Pete accepts Kapas directive first in his second pair part of the adjacency
pair in Finnish (line 10: Schegloff & Sacks, 1973). He also enacts his response by grabbing
the joystick with both hands as if to show that he is ready to make the final choice when it
becomes available (line 9). In line 12, Pete translates Kapas directive into the game
language. By uttering the command dismiss at this point, Pete further displays readiness
to make the choice as soon as it is possible. Both Kapas and Petes turns hence
demonstrate knowledge of the game events and the choices they are able to make (see also
lines 1415, 19 and 27). After some rapid choices by Pete (lines 2628), Kapa anticipates
the next move: just before the option appears on screen and Pete makes the final choice, he
repeats the command Dismiss in a low and soft voice (line 29).
Players use of the game terminology shows how expertise in the game languge is
implicated in their mastery of the game and its details. Players draw upon elements of the
COLLABORATIVE GAME-PLAY 175

game language as part of their shared repertoire to accomplish actions through which they
interpret the ongoing scenes and manage the game. In this example, the players show
orientation to an expert-novice relationship which is not hierarchical, but equal. While the
co-player instructs the player about a choice to be made, the player uses a verb drawn
from the game to display knowledge of the actual command that accomplishes the choice
in question. Sequences where players instruct each other and negotiate about successful
choices demonstrate how players not only enjoy the game, but also learn to manage it
through collaborative action involving two co-available languages.

Repeating and Imitating Game Characters Utterances


Players frequently repeat utterances produced by game characters. Practices of
repetition enable the players to co-construct their understandings of the game events and
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display their stances towards the avatars and their characteristics as displayed in their
language use. The players are surprisingly skilful in imitating the nuances of the avatars
language use. For example, they draw upon the games multicultural fantasy world by
attending to and reproducing features of the different varieties of English (e.g. English
spoken with a foreign accent) that are available in the voice-overs.
Example 3 shows a scene where the avatar Wakka is standing alone looking
determined. The display then shows an object, a machina, on the ground. Wakkas
relationship with machinas is complicated: he sometimes uses them in the battles although
they are prohibited in the predominant religion. In this scene, Wakka starts to walk
towards the machina (line 1), and while he is walking, the co-player Pete voices his
thoughts (line 2). When Wakka reaches the machina he kicks it and utters furiously:
Curse these! (line 6). Pete imitates this in his next turn (line 7).
Example 3. [011003 / 7:08] (Kapa 5 active player)

w 5 Wakka
1 w STANDS ALONE. STARTS WALKING TOWARDS THE MACHINA.
2 P .damn ma:chin$a?$,
3 K uhihihi .hhhu P SMILES.
4 P mitah?
what
5 K uemma muistau
I dont remember
6 w Qcurse these5 KICKS THE MACHINA. DI: Wakka: Curse these!
7 P 5@a- Qcurse theuseu@5
8 w 5[auu:: JUMPS UP AND DOWN AND FINALLY KNEELS IN PAIN.
9 K 5[MOUTH OPENS, LOOKS DISBELIEVING
10 K uheheu $ty:h(h)ma:$ uhahahh5
stupid

Right from the start of this extract the players seem to be building a shared stance
towards Wakkas actions, as displayed in the voicing of the avatars thoughts and the
laughing response (lines 23). After a short side sequence (lines 4 5), the players again
orient to activities on the screen. When Wakka kicks the machina and curses, Pete
immediately repeats Wakkas turn. Both turns are said in a relatively low voice compared
176 PIIRAINENMARSH AND TAINIO

to the average pitch height of the speakers. Petes utterance matches the pitch height of
Wakkas turn, and he also successfully imitates the harshness of Wakkas voice. After this
Wakka is shown to hurt his foot and express his pain with a loud response cry (line 8:
Goffman, 1981). Kapa views the scene intensively and produces an embodied response
which seems to attend to both Petes and Wakkas activities. He adopts a facial expression
that expresses astonishment, disbelief, and criticism: his mouth first opens and then melts
to a laugh accompanied with a comment (stupid, line 10). Through the prosodic
imitation and embodied responses the boys seem to reconstruct their mutual attitude
towards the on-going activities of avatar Wakka, treating the activity of viewing the scene
as their collaborative project. Repeating and carefully imitating avatars speech is a
successful way to take a stance towards the avatars, for instance implicitly criticising their
actions or speech styles, and share this stance with the co-player. Repetition is thus a
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central resource through which players build shared interpretations and evaluations of
meaningful scenes. It also offers an embodied resource for experimenting with different
kinds of English speaking identities available in the game.

Co-Constructing Narrative
In addition to repeating avatars turns the players use their knowledge of the game
dialogue in co-constructing the narrative. They may, for example, anticipate forthcoming
turns and reproduce their own versions of them, carefully timing them to fit the sequential
context of unfolding dialogue. This happens especially during the non-playable narrative
scenes where the players find other ways of engaging with the game by commenting it or
by intervening in the dialogue. Often the participants aim seems to be to produce an
utterance that is a close match of the avatars turn in terms of its prosody, vocabulary, and
syntax.
In Example 4, the players are viewing a narrative sequence where Tidus is reminiscing
about his father (Jecht) in another world and engages in dialogue with him. In line 4, Kapa
displays his knowledge of the scene by producing an utterance modelled on a turn
produced by Tidus later in the dialogue (line 10).
Example 4. [011003]

j 5 Jecht, Tiduss father from another world


t 5 Tidus
1 t they say youre no good cause you
2 drink all the time,
3 j I: can quit drinkin whenever I want.
4R K how about today,5
5 t 5qthen do it no::w5
6 K 5hoh, DISAPPOINTED FACIAL EXPRESSION.
7 j WHAT did you SAY.
8 t .you just said you, can:,
9 j heh (.) tomorrow maybe.
10 t why not today::.

Kapas utterance (line 4) is a grammatically acceptable and also pragmatically


appropriate question countering Jechts prior claim. It is also semantically close to Tiduss
COLLABORATIVE GAME-PLAY 177

later turn (why not today, line 10). However, Kapa seems to be unsatisfied with his
performance: after hearing Tiduss next turn (line 5), he utters a mild response cry, which
expresses disappointment (line 6). The rhythm of the dialogue between Tidus and Jecht is
slow, with relatively long spaces between the turns, and Kapa succeeds in producing his
anticipatory turn in the rhythm of the dialogue, with no overlap. The reason for his
disappointment seems to be the failure to memorize the exact progression of the dialogue
although he remembers well the gist of the conversation. Kapa thus orients to the
mismatch between his version (line 4) and the source turn (line 10).
This example demonstrates how the player applies his interactional competence in
verbally participating in the scene. He adapts his knowledge of the game language,
showing recognition of syntactic and semantic features of a turn that is familiar from
earlier occasions of play, and produces an utterance with a similar pragmatic function in
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order to offer his own contribution to the construction of the dialogue. The player seems
to orient to both memorising the exact syntactic form of the turn and its correct placement
in the sequence in a way that displays his treatment of the situation as a learning activity.
He also shows his ability to follow the rhythm of the dialogue and to time his contribution
so that it can be heard as a meaningful action in the dialogue. All this involves skilful
analysis of the interactional sequence in which the utterance is embedded. The example
further illustrates that, while striving to display their competences through co-constructing
the dialogue, players make use of their language repertoire and sometimes produce their
own versions, which depart from the model offered by the game, but are both
grammatically correct and meaningful. This highlights the way players assemble their
language resources to adapt to the unfolding circumstances of the activity, using the game
narrative as an occasion to display and practise their competences while attending to
events in the game.

Voicing Avatars
The last example demonstrates how the players use their own voice and expressions in
order to talk as an avatar (see also Example 3, line 2) and address an avatar. These
utterances display the players engagement with the game world and serve as resources for
building co-participation among the players using the game language.
Example 5 comes from a fighting scene where three of the good avatars, Wakka,
Auron, and Kimahri, are fighting against the monster Sinspawn Gui (see also Examples 1
and 2). Pete is in charge of making choices about the avatars strategies. In the first lines
(lines 12), the players are commenting on a magical substance (Al Bhed Potions) that can
be used at certain phases to heal damages inflicted in battles. The potion gives energy
(see players reference to a ton of energy, line 4) to the avatars. In this scene the fighting
has been going on for some time without the players being able to influence it. Gui attacks
and uses his powerful magic Demi (line 5) and hits Wakka, one of the playable characters,
who then through his pain gets the maximum amount of Overdrive to be used in battle.
This enables the players to make new choices and causes excitement: Pete appreciates this
new possibility by making a choice to attack Gui, exclaiming aloud (line 7) and then
shouting a threat addressed to Gui (line 8).
Example 5. [011003: 32] (Pete 5 active player)
sg 5 sinspawn Gui, an evil avatar
w 5 Wakka
178 PIIRAINENMARSH AND TAINIO

a 5 Auron
k 5 Kimahri
w, a and k fighting against sg through the scene.
1 P [VITSI NE AL BHED- mika me,
[GOSH THOSE AL BHED- what we,
2 AL Bhed Potions vahan ne on hyvia DI: Demi
AL Bhed Potions theyre so good
3 K uniiu
uyeau
4 P TONNI kaikkien ene- uenergiaau
A TON of all this ene- uenergyu
5 (.)
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SGS MAGIC (DEMI) WORKS. WAKKA GETS A HIT


AND THE MAXIMUM AMOUNT OF OVERDRIVE
6 u(saa)u DI: Attack an enemy with equipped weapon.
u(get)u
7R P AU YEAH (.) CHOOSES ATTACK.
8R NOW youre gonna die,
9 K $h(h)h$5 SMILES.
10 P 5va- EKa: pistetaan naa,
5bu- FI:Rst well put these
11 P (.) MAKES TWO CHOICES, MARKS SGS HANDS.
12 P kadet pois
hands away

Petes threat is syntactically addressed directly to Gui (notice the second person
pronoun you) and seems to enact his newly accomplished power in the game. The co-
player Kapa appreciates Petes exclamation by laughing and smiling (line 9). At this point
Pete is actively engaged in game-play: he chooses the strategy for the forthcoming fight
(line 11). He also describes his own actions switching back to his first language (lines 10
and 12). After marking and then removing the opponents hands, the player (through
Wakka) is in a good position to finally defeat the monster. In this example, the success in
the battle, which opens a new possibility to defeat the evil monster Gui, seems to arouse
the players involvement in the game. Their enthusiasm is verbalized by Petes exclamation
and threat in English addressed directly to the avatar (line 8). At the same time the
utterance is a public display of stance towards the events, thus building a response that can
be shared by both parties.
Turns where players animate utterances that are spoken or apparently thought by
avatars or addressed to them, provide a resource through which the players can display
simultaneous presence in the game world and the collaborative play activity. On these
occasions players use the language of the game as a locally available resource to signal
their engagement with the game, while simultaneously conveying their own position
and stance towards current action. These utterances are a key resource for signalling
subtle shifts in the players alignments with respect to the activity under way. Through
them the players shift from one type of activity to another, display heightened
involvement with game-play and also build shared affective stance towards the
unfolding scene.
COLLABORATIVE GAME-PLAY 179

Discussion
The ongoing debate on the potential of games for learning calls for detailed study of
game-playing as social activity and the interactional practices through which games are
managed and experienced. The aim of this paper has been to contribute to research in this
field by examining how a collaborative gaming activity creates opportunities for
additional language learning through drawing on two co-available languages while
participating in the activity. Taking a social-interactional approach to learning, we have
described the players participation as continuous adaptation to the unfolding
circumstances of the game-play activity and demonstrated that the players recurrently
attend to and draw upon the language of the game as a key resource for attending to and
interpreting scenes and events in the game world and building social play.
Game-playing creates a range of interactional opportunities for using English while
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managing the game. First, we demonstrated how players make use of written information,
for instance reading aloud or voicing instructions available in the game. This form of
participation enables the players to attend to and index choices in game-play, and to
negotiate them in the course of play. Similarly, voicing written texts can serve to show
appreciation of significant actions in game-play. Second, our analysis shows how players
orient to the bilingual activity by adopting English elements as part of their repertoire of
game-related talk. The language used by the players is characterized by frequent
borrowing of game vocabulary and hybrid or mixed language forms that are embedded in
or alternate with utterances formed in their first language in sequences where they
comment on the game. Elements drawn from the game language are thus a central
resource in building the actions through which the players make sense of and experience
the game. With increased experience of game-playing, this vocabulary is adopted as part
of the players shared repertoire which is specific to this activity, but may also be extended
to the communicative practices shared by members of the broader communities of practice
formed around gaming.
A third phenomenon illustrated by the data is the frequent use of repetition and
imitation of game characters speech as a resource for co-constructing understanding of
current scenes and building stances towards them. By repeating utterances and
expressions produced by avatars, the players show detailed attention not only to the
linguistic forms and constructions made available by the game, but also their prosodic
qualities as well as semantic and pragmatic meanings. Prosodic imitation is often used in
commenting on the characters or their speech style, and enables skilful displays of
affective stance as part of co-constructing the players enjoyment of the game. At the
same time, it offers opportunities for experimenting with different features of the
varieties of English used in the game, thus constituting one type of playful activity
through which the players appreciate details of the game. In addition to repeating turns
produced by avatars, the players display their knowledge of the game in co-constructing
the narrative. They may, for example, reproduce turns modelled on the dialogue, often
carefully timing them to fit the sequential context of the unfolding dialogue or narrative.
Utterances produced by game characters are thus reshaped to fit particular scenes as a
way of engaging with the scene. This way of participating involves skilful interpretation
of the sequences in which particular utterances are embedded, and demonstrates how the
players accomplish engagement with particular scenes through verbal participation,
drawing on their interactional repertoire, which is shaped by repeated occasions of
playing the same game.
180 PIIRAINENMARSH AND TAINIO

Finally, players often animate game characters speech using their own voice when
adopting the role of or directing their words to an avatar. On these occasions the avatars
speech is used as a resource for displaying heightened involvement in game-play and
negotiation of the trajectory of the game as a joint achievement. Through such public
displays of involvement the players seem to embody the actions through which the current
game activity is accomplished and experienced. The players act as if they are co-present
participants both in the physical setting and the fictive setting of the game world.
Animated displays such as these can be seen to interweave conduct within the physical
space with action within the mediated scene (Heath, Luff, vom Lehn, Hindmarsh, &
Cleverly, 2002, p. 17).
Both previous studies on the learning potential of games and informal interviews with
gamers suggest that game-playing is an informal learning environment that enhances the
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development of certain skills. While studies with a cognitive orientation have found that
game-playing shapes attention processes and develops certain skills required in complex
activities, research on social aspects of learning emphasizes the benefits of collaborative
gaming, where players abilities can develop through distributed expertise and shared
practices. In this paper we have attempted to demonstrate how the complex, multimodal
activity of game-playing, with its multiple, temporally unfolding participation frameworks,
creates affordances for additional language learning. The analysis shows how players pay
detailed attention to the textual and vocal resources afforded by the game, how they adopt
gaming vocabulary as part of their interactional repertoire, memorize chunks of game
dialogue, and reproduce or adapt these resources in appropriate contexts in order to engage
with the narrative. While our analysis does not show evidence of longitudinal changes or
development of language expertise, it has demonstrated some of the detailed ways in which
participants in a collaborative gaming activity orient to the language of the game as a locally
available and flexible resource that they attend to and use in building their own actions in
the course of managing and experiencing the game. We suggest that the competences
displayed in engaging with the game using the game language also form part of the practices
of learning and apprenticeship through which players develop their expertise as competent
players and members of the gaming community.

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COLLABORATIVE GAME-PLAY 183

APPENDIX
Transcription conventions follow the tradition of Conversation Analysis (see e.g. Arminen, 2005).
Players verbal actions are marked in bold, non-verbal activities in SMALL CAPITALS, text on screen in
italics. The used transcription conventions are the following:

./,/? Falling / level / rising intonation


- Cut-off
(/n Change in pitch height: higher / lower than preceding speech
. ,/, . Faster / slower tempo
: Sound stretch
CAP Loud voice
u u Quiet voice
$ $ Smiling voice
@ @ Animated voice
(.) Pause, less than 0.3 s.
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(0.5) Length of pause


hh .hh Out-breath / in-breath
j(h)oo Laughing production
[] Overlap
5 Latching of turns