Gaming is a popular pastime and frequent source of English contact for many young people today. But games are highly complex systems which are only minimally framed by language, if at all, making it difficult for young people to understand how games function and to communicate about them with others. Yet despite this, young people like to talk about games, not just among friends at school and in between classes, but also online via wikis, blogs, and online videos. In fact, gaming is one of the most popular categories of videos on online video platforms, and English has established itself as the lingua franca of the gaming community. Game reviews, especially online ones, serve a crucial communicative function by presenting new games, providing summaries and offering overall reactions and recommendations. Often, such reviews help inform others whether they should buy the game, borrow it from a friend, or simply move on. Yet beyond this obvious function, game reviews also teach people how to conceptually understand games, what to value in them, and most of all, how to communicate about them with others. Thus, the reallife task of game reviewing is used here as a model for a classroom task that serves real-life cognitive, communicative and social functions.
Central to game reviewing are summarizing and evaluating, which are not only central cognitive-linguistic skills but also operators embedded in the core curriculum of modern foreign languages (and other subjects) for secondary schools (e. g. cf. Niedersächsisches Kultusministerium). Summarizing is arguably one of the key communicative genres (cf. Hallet 2016 on genre learning), since summarizing involves the ability to select key points of an event or text and synthesize them into a coherent new text based on a new purpose. Summarizing is foundational for many other more complex genres of communication, like evaluating, which is also part of game reviews since authors typically rate the game they are reviewing with recommendations on whether or not to buy it. This productive skill of reviewing games involves writing as well as speaking, as game reviews often rely on a script for verbal presentation. The game reviews then typically consist of a voice-over commentary on selected scenes from the game.
In addition to the communicative goals, there is also the goal of media (or more specifically, game) literacy: A successful and qualitative game review requires competent insight into the game itself, and an ability to analyze based on a set of pre-determined criteria. Game reviewing also requires the ability to design and create a game review, involving specific (aesthetic, structural and functional) generic conventions.
Identifying game review conventions
Game reviews fall within a specific genre with an evolving set of conventions. What makes the genre of game reviews special is that almost anyone can make online game reviews since there are relatively low barriers to production and publishing. In fact, gamers appreciate reviews made by other gamers, rather than by professional companies. Since it is likely that many students already consume online reviews, they may already have considerable background knowledge beyond teachers’ expectations. Thus, instead of providing students with a set of criteria and guidelines for their reviews, it is recommended to let them create their own by analyzing their own experiences and then by sharing their ideas with the...
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