Thomas M. Connolly
School of Computing, University of Paisley, High St, Paisley, Scotland
Keywords: ARGs, motivation, collaboration, social networking, modern foreign languages.
Abstract: It is recognised that games play an important role in child development. Nowadays with children growing
up in a highly technologically-rich society, many of these games are computer/console based. These types
of games, which we will refer to generically as computer games in this paper, have been of interest to
researchers from many different perspectives, some positive (for example, motivation, engagement,
learning, skills development) and some negative (for example, violence, aggression, gender stereotyping).
One particular type of game that has not been explored in detail for teaching and learning is the Alternate
Reality Game (ARG), a form of interactive narrative, often involving multiple media and game elements, to
tell a story that may be affected by participants’ ideas or actions. In this paper we discuss the use of an ARG
to help support the teaching and learning of modern foreign languages by European secondary school
children (ages 11-18).
According to figures obtained by one of the political
parties in the UK, only 48% of pupils in England
took a modern European language at GCSE level in
2007, down from 83% in 2000. It has been
recognized for some time that there has been a
decline in this area despite a number of initiatives to
reverse this trend. Among other proposals, the UK
government is now proposing to make languages
compulsory in primary schools.
This is an unfortunate situation that has
developed as modern foreign languages (MFLs) can
provide an enhanced learning experience. MFL
teaching promotes young people’s cultural
development by providing them with insights into
cultural differences and opportunities to relate these
to their own experience, and to consider different
cultural and linguistic traditions, attitudes and
behaviours. Effective teaching in MFLs can make a
significant contribution to young people’s ability to
value diversity and challenge racism by providing
opportunities for them to (QCA, 2007):
discover that many different languages are
spoken throughout the world, and that many
languages are spoken in a number of different
countries and by people from different ethnic
recognise that understanding another language
promotes a deeper appreciation of speakers of
that language and of their culture;
learn that the ability to communicate with
speakers of other languages can nurture mutual
respect, tolerance and understanding;
appreciate that speakers of different languages
may have beliefs, attitudes, behaviours and
experiences that are of equal worth;
communicate in the target language, in pairs and
groups, with their teacher and with native
speakers, and thereby learn the importance of
listening carefully to others and of conveying a
clear message;
appreciate the effort required by speakers to
communicate successfully in a language that is
not their first language.
As noted by Crookall (2007), language teachers
make great use of simulation/gaming methodologies
and there are many supporting textbooks and
research papers that present various forms of role-
play, games, simulations, and other exercises. (eg.
Gaudart, 1999; Garcia-Carbonell, Rising, Montero,
& Watts, 2001; Halleck, 2007). While many of the
M. Connolly T. (2008).
In Proceedings of the Fourth International Conference on Web Information Systems and Technologies, pages 428-434
DOI: 10.5220/0001530604280434
simulations/games used are non-computer based,
during recent years the computer game has become
an important development in popular culture. During
the same period there has been an appreciation that
computer games can play a significant role in
education. There is no doubt that computer games
are extremely engaging and incorporate features that
have an extremely compelling, even addictive
quality. It is these highly engaging features of
computer games that have attracted the interests of
In this paper, we explore a particular genre of
game called the Alternate Reality Game (ARG),
which is a form of interactive narrative, often
involving multiple media and game elements, to tell
a story that may be influenced by participants’ ideas
or actions. We are investigating the use of ARGs to
help support the learning of modern foreign
languages by European secondary school children
(ages 11-18). In the next section we examine the
literature on games and motivation, games-based
learning and ARGs, and some of links between
games and theories of learning and instruction. In
Section 3, we outline the work we are carrying out to
use ARGs for teaching purposes and the challenges
this will entail.
2.1 Computer Games and Motivation
Dempsey et al. (1996, page 2) cited in Mitchell and
Savill-Smith (2004) define a game as “…a set of
activities involving one or more players. It has
goals, constraints, payoffs and consequences. A
game is rule-guided and artificial in some respects.
Finally, a game involves some aspect of competition,
even if that competition is with oneself.” Caillois
(1961) defines a game as an activity that is voluntary
and enjoyable, separate from the real world,
uncertain, unproductive (in that the activity does not
produce any goods of external value), and governed
by rules. Prensky (2001) defines the key
characteristics of games as: rules, goals and
objectives, outcomes and feedback, conflict (and/or
competition, challenge, opposition), interaction, and
representation of story.
To understand why computers games are so
engaging we need to understand the reasons why
people play them. In recent years research on
motivation has made progress in trying to explain
why people behave in the ways that they do.
Motivation theorists since Maslow (1970) have
explained behaviours in terms of human needs and
desires. In self-determination theory, Ryan and Deci
(2000) distinguish between different types of
motivation based on the various reasons or goals that
give rise to an action. The most basic distinction is
between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. Intrinsic
motivation refers to doing something because it is
inherently interesting or enjoyable while extrinsic
motivation refers to doing something because it
leads to a separable outcome (such as a verbal
reward like praise or a tangible reward like money).
Research on achievement motivation (Elliot,
1999) faces the challenge of explaining why
individuals take part in learning activities that are
difficult, not always interesting or enjoyable and
require a lot of effort and persistence to succeed.
Theories of achievement motivation have identified
a number of features leading to higher motivation
including mastery orientation, internal locus of
control, high self-efficacy, expectancy of success,
task value, self-regulation and autonomy. Many of
these features are related to intrinsic motivation.
Others have tried to provide a more detailed
account of important features in intrinsic motivation.
Malone and Lepper (1987) present a theoretical
framework of factors influencing intrinsic
motivation in the design of educational computer
games. They suggest that intrinsic motivation is
created by four individual factors: challenge,
fantasy, curiosity and control and three interpersonal
factors: cooperation, competition, and recognition.
Interestingly these factors also describe what makes
a good game, irrespective of its educational
qualities. While intrinsic motivation is highly
desirable, many of the activities in which learners
engage in is directly influenced by extrinsic rather
than intrinsic motivation (Csikszentmihalyi &
Nakamura, 1989). Unfortunately evidence suggests
that extrinsic motivators may lead to merely short-
range activity while actually reducing long-range
interest in a topic while with intrinsic motivators
learners tend to persist longer, work harder, actively
apply strategies and retain key information more
consistently (Guthrie et al., 1996). Thus, extrinsic
motivators must be supported by intrinsic
motivators, otherwise the result is likely to be a
reduction in the very behaviour we want to promote.
One of the most serious problems that research has
pointed out during the past two decades is that
extrinsic motivation when used alone is likely to
have precisely the opposite impact that we want it to
have on learner achievement (Lepper & Hodell,
Computer games induce emotional reactions
within players that encourage them to continue
involvement with the game. These reactions include
satisfaction, desire, anger, absorption, interest,
excitement, enjoyment, pride in achievement, and
the (dis)approbation of peers and of others. It is in
provoking and harnessing some of these emotions
and their consequences that computer games might
benefit education. This is borne out by a study by
Ricci, Salas and Cannon-Bowers (1996), which
found that incorporating game features into
instruction increased motivation and consequently
produced greater attention and retention. An
empirical study by Chen, Shen, Ou and Liu (1998)
demonstrated the positive effects of computer games
on motivation and learning.
Research on achievement motivation has
identified many features that motivate students in
learning, but there is a more obvious characteristic
that appears to be important in engaging players of
computer games and that is fun and enjoyment.
Interestingly, there is surprisingly little research on
the motivating value of fun (Prensky, 2002). Perhaps
it is seen as self-evident that fun is intrinsically
motivating and that people will want to engage in
activities that they find pleasurable. The literature on
achievement motivation does not discuss fun as a
motive for learning. Prensky (2002) argues that there
is a strong resistance to considering that fun might
be one of the goals of learning. He contends that this
is largely for historical reasons: learning was
introduced via religious organisations and it was
thought that learning should be formal and serious.
While we might imagine that introducing the fun
factor of computer games into learning might be
highly attractive, some researchers believe that
learning should not be fun; for example, Stoll (1999,
p. 22) states “What seems like a game to someone
will feel like work to another. The intention should
be enlightenment, not entertainment. Learning isn’t
about acquiring information, maximising efficiency,
or enjoyment. Learning is about developing human
capacity. To turn learning into fun is to denigrate
the two most important things we can do as humans:
To teach. To learn.”. Certainly it may turn out that
entertainment and education are ultimately
incompatible. Okan (2003), for example, points out
that while computer games are highly motivating
they may be only motivating to play games and not
to learn.
There are also other issues that may prevent
computer games becoming a primary tool in
education. The most frequently cited concerns are
around the long term effects of violence on game
players, although there is no agreed consensus. For
example, Provenzo (1991) claims that computer
games: (a) can lead to violent, aggressive behaviour;
(b) employ destructive gender stereotyping; (c)
promote unhealthy ‘rugged individualist’ attitudes
and (d) stifle creative play. On the other hand,
catharsis theory states that games playing may be a
useful means of coping with, or releasing, pent-up
aggression (Emes, 1997). Other negative aspects of
gaming that researchers emphasize include gaming
addiction (Griffiths & Hunt, 1998); poor sleep
patterns (Higuchi et al., 2005); obesity (Vandewater,
Shim, & Caplovitz, 2004); the prevalence in
computer games of violent imagery (Smith, Lachlan,
& Tamborini, 2003); and problematic cultural
ideologies (Gottschalk, 1995).
2.2 Games-based Learning
Connolly and Stansfield (2007) define computer
games-based learning as “the use of a computer
games-based approach to deliver, support, and
enhance teaching, learning, assessment, and
evaluation”. This is a research area that may be
conceptualized as the intersection of learning theory,
computer games theory and design, user interfaces,
and subject matter expertise. In this
conceptualization, learning theory serves as the
foundation to ensure that technology does not
become the dominant factor.
Many games-based learning applications are PC-
based and typically involve the use of 2D or 3D
graphics. For example, Figure 1 shows a screenshot
from Virtual U ( modelled after
the popular SimCity series, which aims to train
university administrators and graduate students to
deal with the growing complexities and challenges
of running a modern university. While Virtual U is a
simulation, it is grounded in authentic data from
1,200 universities and colleges in the United States
(Penrod & Perry, 2003). Figure 2 shows a screenshot
from America’s Army, which was released by the
US Army to aid recruitment. This game allows users
to learn about a range of key skills that include
teamwork, leadership and communication as they
navigate challenges to achieve goals.
Figure 1: Screenshot from Virtual U.
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Figure 2: Sample screenshot from America’s Army.
2.3 Alternate Reality Games
Alternate Reality Games (ARGs) or “immersive
gaming” is a blend of online narrative and puzzle
solving (similar to an online scavenger hunt). The
narrative is gradually revealed through a series of
media such as websites, instant messaging, text
messages, emails, wikis and blogs and, in some
cases, TV and newspaper adverts and telephone
Central to the development and running of an
ARG is the puppetmaster, who is simultaneously an
ally and adversary to the player base, creating
obstacles and providing resources for overcoming
them in the course of telling the game’s story.
One of the earliest ARGs was developed in 2001
to market the film A.I.: Artificial Intelligence and a
series of Microsoft computer games based on the
film. It was based on an elaborate murder mystery
played out across hundreds of websites, email
messages, faxes, fake ads, and voicemail messages.
At its height it involved over three million active
participants from all over the world; in essence, it
was a type of massively multiplayer online game
(MMOG). Due to the size of the assets involved in
the early stages of development, the game became
known as “The Beast”. Microsoft also used this type
of game to create significant market hype around the
launch of the Xbox game Halo 2. Called “I Love
Bees”, the game wove together an interactive
narrative set in 2004 and a War of the Worlds-style
radio drama set in the future, broken into 30-60
second segments and broadcast over telephones
Fundamental to the solving of the game is
collaboration – players must work together to solve
the puzzles and ultimately the game. In most games
the player controls an avatar to interact in a virtual
world. In contrast, one of the potential strengths of
ARGs is that the players play themselves. Thus,
instead of helping an avatar to ‘learn’ new skills and
gain experience, ARGs rely on the knowledge that a
player already possesses. One further technological
area that has been identified as having strong impact
on learning is the emergence of social networking.
Interestingly, not only are ARGs a form of computer
game they are also heavily built around social
2.4 Theories of Learning and
Within the theories of learning and instruction we
can identify highly desirable qualities of Alternate
Reality Games that are worthy of further
investigation. Connolly et al. (2004) argue that such
games build on theories of:
Constructivism, a philosophical,
epistemological, and pedagogical approach to
learning, where learning is viewed as an active
process in which learners construct new ideas or
concepts based upon their current/past
knowledge. The learner selects and transforms
information, constructs hypotheses, and makes
decisions, relying on a cognitive structure to do
Situated Learning, where learning is viewed as
a function of the activity, context and culture in
which it occurs (Lave, 1988).
Cognitive Apprenticeship, an instructional
strategy that models the processes experts use to
handle complex tasks. The focus is on cognitive
and metacognitive skills, requiring the
externalization of processes that are usually
carried out internally. Observing the processes
by which an expert thinks and practices these
skills teach students to learn on their own
(Collins, Brown, & Newman, 1989).
Problem-based Learning, an instructional
strategy for posing significant, contextualized,
real world situations, and providing resources,
guidance, and instruction to learners as they
develop content knowledge and problem-
solving skills (Mayo, Donnelly, Nash, &
Schwartz, 1993).
In addition to the cognitive dimension of knowledge
and skills and the emotional dimension of feelings
and motivation, there is also a growing recognition
that learning also encompasses the social dimension
of communication and cooperation – all three of
which are embedded in a societally situated context
(Illeris, 2002). Connolly and Stansfield (2007) also
suggest that computer games have a number of
social aspects that may lead to enhanced learning.
For example, in a community of practice learning
occurs through participation in the practices of the
community, as individuals develop ways of thinking
and reframe their identities and interests in relation
to the community (Lave & Wenger, 1991). More
specifically, Wenger (1998) identifies four aspects
of learning within the community of practice
framework: (a) learning as doing, or changes in how
we engage in social practices, (b) learning as
experience, or changes in how we make meaning of
our lives and our worlds, (c) learning as becoming,
or changes in our identities, and (d) learning as
belonging, or changes in our relationships to the
community and practices.
Learning communities, whether these are face-
to-face or online, are drawn together through the
principles of ‘commonality’ and ‘interdependence’.
Commonality involves a process of working
together in common areas and interests and, in the
process, forming a bond or identity with one another
and with the group as a whole. Interdependence
implies depending on one another in a positive way
for information, knowledge organisation, and shared
problem solving. A desirable feature of online
learning communities is that there exists varying
demands and expertise at different levels of
competency where participants can scaffold one
another through the sharing of information and
abilities. Strong community is important as it has
been shown to lead to deep learning (Chapman,
Ramondt, & Smiley, 2005). Two important activities
in communities are communication and
collaboration, which provide opportunities for
reflection and articulation.
McGonigal (in print) argues that the gameplay
within I Love Bees develops “collective
intelligence” through three stages: a) collective
cognition, b) cooperation, and c) coordination. She
believes these distinct stages of collaboration occur
through three aspects of game design, namely: a)
massively distributed content, b) meaningful
ambiguity, and c) real-time responsiveness, and
that these elements form a reproducible set of core
design requirements that may be used to inspire
future learning systems that support and ultimately
bring to a satisfying conclusion a firsthand
engagement with collective intelligence”.
While Alternate Reality Games have been used
primarily as a marketing tool, such games exhibit
qualities that may make them extremely useful
within teaching and learning. Our aim is to
investigate the use of ARGs to support the teaching
and learning of modern foreign languages within
secondary education across several European
countries. The plan is to develop an appropriate
ARG that will allow groups of pupils across Europe
to work collaboratively to solve the game. The game
will be such that the pupils have to communicate in
the language they are learning to solve the puzzles.
Like other ARGs, not all of the game will be
scripted prior to commencement of the game and the
teachers, as puppetmasters, will be able to
dynamically intervene to scaffold and further
challenge the pupils. We currently envisage using a
number of multimedia mechanisms including
websites, instant messaging, text messages, emails,
wikis and blogs.
There are a number of design challenges that we
will face in this project, such as:
How to design an integrated set of multi-lingual,
multi-media problems that require collective
effort to solve.
How to create an interface to communicate
individual, differentiated roles within the
collaborative structure.
How to design for collective intelligence, rather
than “hive mind” or “mob effect”.
How to produce a replicable solution that can be
used by modern foreign language teachers
across Europe.
How to ensure the system is “secure” so that
only authorised users can access the system
(critical for many European countries where
children are involved).
How to evaluate the usefulness of ARGs for
learning a modern foreign language.
The last challenge listed is very important to the
project to demonstrate the effectiveness (or
otherwise) of this approach. However, there has
been a dearth of empirical studies analyzing the
usage of games-based learning and general models
of evaluation are currently lacking (Connolly,
Stansfield, & Hainey, 2007) and this will have to be
addressed early on in the project.
WEBIST 2008 - International Conference on Web Information Systems and Technologies
This work is supported by the EU Comenius
Programme under project contract 133909-2007-
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