Published online by Cambridge University Press: 26 September 2012
This exploratory study investigates the linguistic and social interaction of four intermediate EFL learners during game play in a massively multiplayer online role playing game (MMORPG). Twelve illustrative episodes drawn from the participants’ text chat, collected in four 70-minute sessions held over a one-month period, are analyzed from a sociocultural perspective. Qualitative analysis reveals the presence of interactional features associated with the development of sociocultural competence. Throughout this study the learners successfully engaged in collaborative social interaction involving dialogue, conducted exclusively in the target language. Participants made appropriate use of politeness involving greetings, informal language, small talk, humor, and leave-takings, as a means to support the operation of collaborative interpersonal relationships. These relationships appeared based on reciprocity, friendship, and teamwork. They were effective in facilitating the creation of a low stress atmosphere characterized by social cohesion that was conducive to co-construction, and the consistent production of coherent target language output. The data indicates that the learners were able to jointly establish, and maintain, states of intersubjectivity through the use of continuers, and requests for assistance relevant to in-game tasks. Learner feedback was positive, and suggests that although the participants found the game play challenging, as this research progressed they became increasingly comfortable as their familiarity with the game increased. Aspects of participation identified by the learners as beneficial included opportunities for risk-taking, enhanced fluency practice, and exposure to vocabulary not normally encountered in regular language classes. The analysis suggests that the game provided access to an environment conducive to forms of collaborative target language use and social interaction identified as beneficial in the sociocultural account of language development.
This research was made possible by the generous support of the Hayao Nakayama foundation for science, technology, and culture.