My Dissertation Abstract on MMORPGs to Improve ESL Skills

A Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game with Language Learning Strategic Activities to Improve English Grammar, Listening, Reading, and Vocabulary

Brightly colored winged-ferry is learning about a quest from a farmer in his field.
Example of roleplay in EverQuestII

This mixed-methods-collective-case-study focused on the use of an online videogame combined with second language acquisition (SLA) strategic gameplay to improve English language learners’ (ELLs) grammar, listening, reading, and vocabulary. Its purpose was to determine whether a noneducational, massively, multiplayer, online, role-playing game (MMORPG) had educational merit as an extracurricular activity for ELLs when combined with the following gaming activities to promote SLA: voice and text-based chats, forming alliances, and creating a virtual social identity.

The design included 15 participants who received 25 hours of weekly English language instruction in reading, writing, grammar, and oral skills for an eight-week term at school. For the treatment group, EverQuest® II (2016) was prescribed with the SLA optimizing strategic gameplay for four hours a week for a month after school. The control group did not receive the treatment.

The Cambridge Michigan Language Assessment (CaMLA) pretest-posttest composite mean gain scores were used to assess the participants’ grammar, listening, reading, and vocabulary performance. At end of term, the control group outperformed the treatment group on the CaMLA by 1.7 mean gain score units.

To determine vocabulary acquisition from gameplay, I developed a vocabulary pretest-posttest based on frequently occurring words from the treatment group participants’ game chat logs. The treatment group learned, on average, 15 new words representing a 30% increase on the gameplay vocabulary test.

No correlations were found between prior gaming experience and attitude toward gaming for SLA or between prior gaming experience and ESL skill performance on the CaMLA. Due to the small sample size and nonrandom assignment, this study lacked the rigor and statistical power to make valid and reliable quantitative claims of the findings. Therefore, a collective case study and mixed methods were used to corroborate and augment findings. Four impact profiles of extreme cases are provided. Emergent themes on gaming and language learning gleaned from participants were as follows: most participants had a positive attitude toward videogame play for SLA, most treatment group participants disliked the prescribed SLA strategic gameplay features and activities, and most participants preferred not to play videogames after school due to other priorities.

This dissertation is available on ProQuest.

Rogers, S. A. (2017). A MMORPG with language learning strategic activities to improve English grammar, listening, reading, and vocabulary (Doctoral dissertation). Available from ProQuest Dissertations and Theses database. (UMI No. 10265484)

Checklist for Novice Education Gaming Researchers

EverQuestII Paladin character is a human-like female puma in armor at home near Frostfang Sea

This is a cursory list of important concepts and items to consider when preparing to conduct educational research that involves the use of videogames.

  • Use media selection criteria (e.g., Chapelle’s 2001 computer-assisted language learning media criteria or 2005 revised version)
  • Determine reading level of videogame text by analyzing chat logs with the Flesch-Kincaid readability index. Make sure participants’ reading levels are within 2 grade levels of index.
  • Use vocabulary concordancer (e.g., Range software) to obtain frequently occurring words from chat log texts for assessment.
  • Learn commands pertinent to research analysis to capture chat logs (e.g., /log) and/or images (e.g., print screen) to computer station public folder.
  • Determine participants’ gaming literacy skills and complexity of game.
  • Determine participants’ propensity for pathological gaming behavior: low social competence, high impulsivity, and excessive gameplay (i.e., 30 hours) (Gentile, et al., 2011).
  • Determine participants’ perceived relevance of gaming as a learning tool.
  • Provide videogame tutorial and ongoing support.
  • Provide explicit instruction on the benefits of strategies used to enhance learning.
  • Consider participants’ preferences for gaming session location, time, and features.
  • Consider Reese’s (2010) Flowometer to determine gamers’ self-perception of flow and other mental states of engagement to achieve optimal learning condition (i.e., advanced skill use during challenging gaming tasks).
  • Provide warning of photosensitivity to persons with epilepsy (Daybreak Games, 2016).

This list was shared during a gaming panel at the SITE 2017 conference in Austin, TX. Here’s the citation if you would like to reference it:

Willis, J., Greenhalgh, S., Nadolny, L., Liu, S., Aldemir, T., Rogers, S., Trevathan, M., Hopper, S. & Oliver, W. (2017). Exploring the Rules of the Game: Games in the Classroom, Game-Based Learning, Gamification, and Simulations. In Proceedings of Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education International Conference 2017 (pp. 475-480). Chesapeake, VA: Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE).

What advice would you add?


Chapelle, C. A. (2001). Computer applications in second language acquisition: Foundations for teaching, testing, and research. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.

Daybreak Games [Website]. (2016). Photosensitive warning. Retrieved from

Gentile, D., Hyekyung, C., Liau, A., Sim, T., & Li, D. (2011). Pathological video game use among youths: A two-year longitudinal study. Pediatrics, 127(2). doi:10.1542/peds.2010-1353

Range [Software application]. (2016). Retrieved from

Reese, D. D. (2010).  Introducing Flowometer: A CyGaMEs assessment suite tool. In R. Van Eck (Ed.), Gaming and cognition: Theories and practice from the learning science. Hershey, PA: Information Science Reference.

Cognitive Perspective of Flow Theory and Video Games

Icon of game consul

Csikszentmihalyi’s flow theory (1990) is based on several interrelated psychological constructs: ability, attitude, cognition, emotion, motivation, and personality. When perfectly combined in a task, they catapult a person into a state of flow commonly known as being in the zone. Csikszentmilhalyi refers to this as an optimal experience. He found that people around the world had shared descriptions for flow such as the joy it yields, episodes of unfettered concentration, suspension of time, and the spontaneous automaticity during an experience. Flow occurs differently for different people. For example, individuals who aren’t good at playing games, or find the game uninteresting, wouldn’t experience flow during gameplay.

As an instructional designer, I want to create optimal learning experiences. Flow theory has components similar to those used for effective instruction based on cognitivism. For instance, Sweller’s cognitive load theory (1998) recommends reducing distractions (extraneous elements) and delivering germane and intrinsic elements of instruction in manageable chunks. This correlates to the component of enjoyment in flow theory in that a person can only fully enjoy a task if they’re capable of completing it. Flow theory has eight main components that engender enjoyment: manageable tasks, deep concentration, clear goals, immediate feedback, effortless involvement, learner autonomy, metamorphosis of self, and suspension of time. These components parallel best practices for instruction.

To make learning more enjoyable, I’d apply Miller’s seven-plus-or-minus-two principle (1956) regarding the limitations surrounding the amount of input that can be remembered at any given time. Adherence to Miller’s principle will make a task more manageable. Additionally, I’d use Gagne’s (1985) nine events of learning to establish the optimal cognitive conditions for effective learning to occur. Three of Gagne’s events (state objective, provide feedback, and provide practice) closely correlate with the enjoyment phenomena of flow theory (task has clear goals, task provides immediate feedback, and sense of control). Furthermore, the aspects of clear goals and feedback also correlate to self-regulation of learning. Self-regulation processes include rehearsal, selection of important information, and metacognitive strategies. The selection of important information aids deep concentration for possible enjoyment of an optimal experience.

A vehicle for cognitive learning experiences with flow potential would be well-designed educational games. Elements of good game design include goal-oriented, stimulating, active learning that is anchored in instruction (Shute, Reiber, & Van Eck, 2012). While playful (fun) learning has similar elements, the key difference is active learning, as many playful activities passively follow the teacher’s directives. Another difference is the challenge aspect of gaming that adapts to the learners’ abilities, whereas playful learning is freeform. A challenge provides learners with intrinsic motivation and the pathway to achieve learner autonomy to make their own way through the world. This is different from traditional learning activities that are teacher directed. Chatti, Jarke, and Specht (2010) described this as a knowledge push, whereas knowledge-pull is akin to gaming where the learner gravitates toward knowledge.

Videogames, in particular, have similar characteristics for creating a context for flow. According to Csikszentmihalyi, clarity, centering, choice, commitment, and challenge are the characteristics necessary for a unified flow experience. In my opinion, these are the flow characteristics that can be found in gameplay: 1) clarity with explicit gaming context, rules, feedback, and goals, 2) centering with narrative providing storyline, 3) choice with multilevels of play, numerous episodes, variety of characters and actions, and guilds, 4) commitment via resets (do-overs) and new virtual identity, and 5) challenge via incremental task difficulty and reward system. The challenge for instructional designers is to determine how to use the potentiality of videogames to engender flow for educational purposes. Based on the aforementioned research on cognitive learning best practices and flow theory, we have the theoretical basis to move forward.

Sandra Rogers


Chatti, M. A., Jarke, M., & Specht, M. (2010). The 3P learning model. Educational Technology and Society, 13(4), 74-85.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York, NY: Harper & Row.

Gagné, R. M. (1985). The Conditions of Learning. New York, NY: Holt, Rinehart, & Winston.

Miller, G. A. (1956). The magical number seven, plus-or-minus two: Some limits on our capacity
for processing information. Psychological Review, 63, 81-97.

Shute, V. J., Rieber, L. P., & Van Eck, R. (2012).   Games…and…Learning. In R. A. Reiser & J. V. Dempsey   (Eds.), Trends and issues in instructional design and   technology (pp. 321-332). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill   Prentice Hall.

Sweller, J., Van Merriënboer, J., & Paas, F. (1998). Cognitive architecture and instructional design. Educational Psychology Review 10(3), 251–296. doi:10.1023/A:1022193728205