Gaining literacy XP: uncovering semiotic resources in a digital game and exploring L2 learner gameplay as a multiliteracy practice




Schoen, Kristina Maren

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Digital games create interactive, multimodal spaces for second language (L2) learners to engage with contextualized language. Scholarship on digital games for L2 learning has previously focused on the affordances of games as language learning tools, i.e. for vocabulary acquisition and communication (deHaan, Reed, & Kuwada, 2010; Peterson, 2012), overlooking their value as rich, semiotic texts and gameplay as multiliteracy practice. This dissertation explores the textuality of the digital game The Vanishing of Ethan Carter (The Astronauts, 2014) and the literacy practices of L2 learners of German as they engage in dyadic pairs with the game. Using Systemic Functional Linguistics (Halliday, 1978; Halliday & Matthiessen, 2004) and social semiotics (Kress, 2000) as analytical frameworks, an initial text analysis of the game focuses on the organization of narrative information in an orbital generic structure (White, 1997). Given the non-sequential narrative organization, a second analysis identifies lexical cohesive ties (Halliday & Hasan, 1976) that connect the different linguistic texts comprising the game’s narrative chapters. Adopting the lens of intermodality (Painter & Martin, 2011), a final analysis explores how narrative texts and the multimodal environment interface. The second half of this study analyzes L2 learners’ engagement with The Vanishing of Ethan Carter in order to understand the gameplay process as multifaceted literacy practices. Based on video and audio recordings of gameplay sessions, one gameplay analysis tracks communication patterns of L2 dyads across the game’s narrative chapters, focusing on utterance frequency in relation to puzzle-solving and text engagement. To contextualize the L2 dyad utterance patterns, a second analysis examines the substance of learners’ interactions, pointing to variation in puzzle-solving strategies and level of relative textual engagement. A final gameplay analysis describes how learner groups utilize supplementary materials—transcripts of in-game texts and walkthrough videos—as game-external tools for mediating the gameplay process. Results of the study contribute to the growing field of digital game-based language learning. In particular, the game and gameplay analyses frame L2 learners’ experiences playing a digital game as acts of multiliteracy engagement. Additionally, the research design offers a potential expansion to current research practices in a relatively young field of inquiry.



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