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 Jamieson, Chapelle, & Preiss, 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 the 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 the 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).
  • New! Use Discord as a communication backchannel during gameplay.

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.

Jamieson, J., Chapelle, C., & Preiss, S. (2005). CALL evaluation by developers, a teacher, and students. CALICO Journal, 23(1), 93-138. Retrieved from

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.

Join me at SITE 2017 Conference in Austin, TX

Photo of Sandra Annette Rogers
Say hello if you see me.

Two of my proposals were accepted for presentation at the Society for Information Technology and Teacher Education (SITE) International Conference in Austin, TX.  I’d love to connect with any of my readers who are also going to SITE.  This will be my third time to attend this conference.  This time around, I’ll be sharing the outcomes of my dissertation and participating in a panel on gaming for educational purposes.  I will be the newbie gaming researcher on the expert panel sharing a job aid for other educators who would like to get started.

Here’s my current schedule for the conference: (All times are Central Standard Time.)

1. Brief Paper: Use of Online Role-Playing Games With Language Learning Strategies to Improve English Grammar, Listening, Reading, and Vocabulary, March 6, 2017 at 3:00- 4:00 P.M. (my session is last), in the Capitol A Room at the Sheraton Austin Hotel at the Capitol. (This was my original dissertation title.  It’s now called A MMORPG with Strategic Activities to Improve English Grammar, Listening, Reading, and Vocabulary. My dissertation committee included: Burke Johnson (Chair), Univ. of South Alabama, Rick Van Eck, Univ. of North Dakota, James Van Haneghan, Univ. of South Alabama, and Susan Martin, Univ. of South Alabama, USA.

2.  Panel Session: Exploring the Rules of the Game: Games in the Classroom, Game-Based Learning, Gamification, and Simulations March 8, 2017 at 4:15-5:15 P.M. in the Capitol North Room at the Sheraton Austin Hotel at the Capitol.  Panelists include:

  • Jana Willis, Univ. of Houston-Clear Lake,
  • Spencer Greenhalgh, Michigan State Univ.,
  • Larysa Nadolny, Iowa State Univ.,
  • Sa Liu, Univ. of Texas,
  • Tugce Aldemir, Penn State World Campus,
  • Sandra Rogers, Univ. of South Alabama,
  • Monica Trevathan, Tietronix Software,
  • Susan Hopper, Pedagogical Balance of Effective Learning
  • Wendy Oliver, Thrivist, USA

For the complete schedule of the conference, select this link.  A special thanks to the Instructional Design and Development Graduate Association and USA Student Government Association in funding my travel and conference fees!

What kind of vocabulary can you learn from role-playing videogames?

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

In my gaming research study with EverQuestII® (EQII), I was pleasantly surprised to see a dominance of neutral words and only a slight majority of negative words over positive ones. This is based on the participants’ text-based, chat logs that I analyzed with the vocabulary concordancer called Range. Chat logs include language from the non-playing characters (NPCs), playing characters (gamers), and game alerts. Range parses the most frequently used words from a text file. I categorized the top 109 most frequently occurring words according to their positive, negative, and neutral attributes.

Positive Words: achievement, benefits, bonuses, boost, defeating, defense, eligible, encounter, focus, gain, health, increases, loot, points, power, prestigious, promotion, purchase, relieve, and reviving

Negative Words: assassin, combat, corpses, critical, crush, damage, debt, destroyer, destruction, disbanded, disruption, drained, fails, fanatic, fear, infected, inflict, interrupted, intimidation, overrun, purulent, slashing, slay, strike, suffering, threat, and loot* (actually a positive word in videogame context).

Neutral Words: absorbs, agility, already, attributes, banner, beetle, claim, collect, commoner, consciousness, consider, convert, copper, current, dedicated, discourse, discovered, dwarf, engage, errands, forum, griffon, hail, icon, idle, levels, limb, magic, melee, member, mentoring, northwest, outpost, parries, piercing, reset, reverse, reward, rifts, riposte, shield, silver, spirit, stamina, statesmen, strength, target, thirst, throne, tower, trade, trigger, unique, unknown, untamed, vocals, weight, zone, and purchase

EQII is a text-heavy, massively, multiplayer, online, role-playing game (MMORPG).  It’s a fantasy game with various virtual worlds, numerous characters to play, and thousands of quests, so the language encountered won’t be exactly the same for everyone.  Nevertheless, I noticed some of the same language being encountered at the early levels of play. For my dissertation study, I used some of these common words parsed from English language learning (ELL) participants’ chat logs for their pretest-posttest of new words learned from gameplay. I wanted to know whether MMORPGs combined with ELL strategies are a good extracurricular activity.

Goals of Research Study on MMORPGs + SLA Strategies

Embed from Getty Images

This summer, I started my research study for my dissertation on massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) combined with second language acquisition (SLA) optimizing activities.  I want to find out if free, commercial video games, MMORPGs in particular, are useful in helping English language learners (ELLs) acquire English skills.  Could MMORPGs be used to supplement language programs or personal learning agendas?  I’ll be using EverQuest II emphasizing language interactions and social identity (use of chat log, joining guilds, and character development), as an after school add-on in a mixed-methods-collective-case-study with nonequivalent comparison group design.

In my literature review and my previous case study on gaming and language learning,  ELLs self-reported that they learn English from playing video games.   Also, researchers on this topic are reporting positive gains for ELLs in vocabulary and language skills (reading, writing, listening, and speaking). My dissertation study focuses on these same skills, as well as student attitude toward gaming as a language learning tool and impact of prior gaming experience.

The goal of my study is to foster ELLs’ communicative competence—no matter their locale or socioeconomic situation.  Free role-play gaming (EQII provides 91 levels of free play) can provide opportunities to access authentic language learning environments for experiential learning.  MMORPGs challenge ELLs linguistically and provide accessible themes and embedded support systems.  Literature on gaming indicates gamers practice information literacy skills (seeking & disseminating information), collaboration, problem-solving, and decision-making through meaningful and relevant tasks.

I’ll keep you posted on my progress and findings on this blog.

Videogames for Extracurricular Second Language Acquisition Activities

Photo by Emma Kim

Massive multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) provide English language learners (ELLs) with various gameplay situations and narratives to learn language functions in interactive, fun, and effective ways. Commercial MMORGs like World of Warcraft (WOW) provide numerous opportunities to practice information literacy activities such as interpreting, seeking, synthesizing, and disseminating information (Martin & Steinkuehler, 2010).  According to Krashen’s (1982) acquisition versus learning hypothesis, these would be great conduits for informal second language acquisition (SLA).  When a player enters WOW to complete a quest, generally they interact with other players and non-player characters (NPCs) to find and share information. These are examples of information literacy activities, which are linguistically described as heuristic (infer), instrumental (seek), and informative (disseminate and synthesize) language functions (Yahya, 2012). ELLs need to practice these and other types of language functions in all sorts of situations to achieve English language fluency.

MMORPGs provide an informal learning environment with a narrative structure to learn language functions via observation and interaction with others.  This resonates with Bandura’s (1978) social learning theory.  Bandura posited learning occurs through observation of others and without formal reinforcement of learning.  Hence, learning is viewed as a cognitive process where one can learn vicariously through others, which can occur with the NPCs and other gamers during the role-play aspect of WOW. Krashen also posited that SLA can occur unconsciously through passive learning activities.  I extrapolate this idea to the passive learning of language functions via gameplay.  Dickey (2007) described the narrative structure of MMORPGs in her typology of quests as follows: bounty, collection, escort, FedEx, goodwill, and messenger.  For example, the bounty quest is an assignment to hunt for certain players or things within the game.  As a subject matter expert in SLA, I could work with script writers to identify the language functions that correlate to each type of quest per character and game level to develop a list of the language functions and their corresponding level of difficulty (beginner, intermediate, advance).  This document would become a curriculum map of language functions for ELLs and could be marketed as an afterschool program to schools and/or to ELLs directly.

MMORPGs make the target language understandable.  MMORPGs provide affordances to make the conversation comprehensible via animation, sound alerts, written rules, NPCs, and other players verbal input and actions. Krashen (1982) posited in his input hypothesis that learners need comprehensible input (i + 1) before moving to a higher level of understanding.  Besides the aforementioned affordances, the story narrative of MMORPGs provide multiple reinforcers to make the input comprehensible. For instance, the narrative structure has a logical sequence of beginning, middle, and end, as well as an appeal to the senses. In a somewhat similar theory, Vygotsky (1978) proposed that all learning takes place at the edge of one’s understanding with the help of others or a support system.  This is known as the zone of proximal development (ZPD). The role-playing aspect of the videogame provides ELLs with an opportunity to go beyond their own ability and access their ZPD with the help of their partners and NPCs within gameplay. Based on these theories, I propose MMORPGs as a way to informally learn a second language during afterschool extracurricular activities.


Bandura, A. (1977). Social learning theory. Oxford, UK: Prentice-Hall.

Dickey, M. (2007).  Game design and learning: A conjectural analysis of how massively multiple online role-playing games (MMORPGs) foster intrinsic motivation.  Educational Technology Research & Development, 55(3), 253-273.  doi:10.1007/s11423-006-9004-7

Krashen, S. (1982).  Principles and practices in second language acquisition.  Oxford, UK: Pergamon Press.

Martin, C., & Steinkuehler, C. (2010).  Collective information literacy in massively multiplayer online games.  E-Learning and Digital Media, 7(4), 355.  doi:10.2304/elea.2010.7.4.355

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Yahya, N. (2011). English language oral development and instruction. In H. Zainuddin, N. Yahya, C. A. Morales-Jones, & E. N. Whelan Ariza (Eds.) Fundamentals of teaching English to speakers of other languages in K-12 mainstream classrooms (3rd ed) (pp. 151-171).  Dubuque, IA: Kendall Hunt Publishing Company.

Cognitive Perspective of Flow Theory and Video Games

Icon of game consul

Flow Theory

Csikszentmihalyi’s (1990) flow theory 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. Csikszentmihalyi 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 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.

Instructional Design of Flow

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, Van Merriënboer,  and Paas’ (1998) cognitive load theory 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, the metamorphosis of self, and suspension of time. These components parallel best practices for instruction.

To make learning more enjoyable, I’d apply Miller’s s (1956) seven-plus-or-minus-two principle 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 the 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 the optimal experience.

Educational Games

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 free form. A challenge provides learners with intrinsic motivation and the pathway to achieving learner autonomy to make their own way through the world (Thai et al., 2009). 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 unified flow experience. In my opinion, these are the flow characteristics that can be found in gameplay: (Rogers, 2017)

  1. Clarity with explicit gaming context, rules, feedback, and goals;
  2. Centering with narrative providing storyline;
  3. Choice with multi-levels 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 a theoretical basis to move forward.


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.

Rogers, S. A. (2017). A Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game 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)

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

Thai, A. M., Lowenstein, D., Ching, D., & Rejeski, D. (2009). Game changer: Investing in children’s play to advance children’s learning and health. New York, NY: The Joan Ganz Gooney Center at Sesame Workshop.

Sandra Annette Rogers, Ph.D.

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