Hey Listen Games

©2019, Hey Listen Games

Sep 7

Using social deduction games in the EFL classroom

1 comment

Hi all!

My name is James and I teach English as a foreign language at a university just outside of Tokyo. My curriculum is not centered on any specific game, but board games. Mainly social deduction and cooperative games.

I use games as a core activity in my context, but supplement and expect learners to do much more than just play the game. A typical 8 - 10 weeks of classes looks like this:


  • Week 1: Research which game you'd like to play from those on my game list.

  • Week 2: Present your research findings to the whole class (share game knowledge) and make a gaming group

  • Week 3: Learn how to play your chosen game

  • Week 4: Play the game, recording your play session audio, then transcribe the audio as homework.

  • Week 5: Analyze the transcription (correct English mistakes, translate Japanese into English) and mine YouTube gameplay videos for useful expressions

  • Week 6: Replay the game, record audio, and transcribe.

  • Week 7: Compare the two transcriptions looking for improvements. Create a presentation "wrap up" of your experiences with the game.

  • Week 8 - 10: Create a digital artifact (video, word doc) that can be given to future players of the game explaining how to play, an example of gameplay, a transcription, or review of the game.

In this sense, any game could be used, but as improving their production skills is a focus of the class, I have tried to stick with social deduction and cooperative games, as these games require learners to speak and converse as they play, which allows for the transcription and analysis activities.


I can go into much more detail and provide worksheets for each step if people are interested. In the meantime, there's a lot of info already over on my blog.


Look forward to engaging with you all.



Sep 7

Thanks for sharing! Using board games is also something I've wanted to do more of in my classroom. I'll definitely be checking out your blog.

New Posts
  • I recently got a chance to demo a lesson to two undergraduate classes of Secondary English Education majors on how one could use Undertale to teach practice close reading activities using alternate forms of text. The short version of the lesson is that students were given a "Clue Sheet," and were instructed to write down anything that could possibly be an important clue to figure out what was going on in the section of the game Undertale that I played in front of the class. I had a pre-saved file about 25 minutes into the game, and the students directed me to explore and examine parts of a mysterious house. I let them know going into the lesson that their clues would be very important, because they would be used to make a decision. The exploration of the house and clue gathering takes about 10 minutes, and then students shared their different ideas of what was going on. One student read all of the text aloud, which seemed to help with engagement. We then moved onto the final part of the gaming session, where students had to vote and chose whether to fight or spare the character Toriel. Students used their clues to make arguments, and attempted to sway their classmates to their points of view. After the decision is played out, we debriefed a bit, and if this was done in an actual high school classroom, I would have had the students turn their experiences into some form of an argumentative essay, or at least a thesis/claim statement. Out of the 30 or so students across the two college classes, the large majority were female students who did not identify as "gamers," but they almost all really got into the game, wanting to figure out what was going on, with some very passionately arguing for fighting/sparing Toriel. Even the professor, who is almost 60, got really into it! The whole thing took about 25-30 minutes, but you could easily stretch it out to a full class period by adding more formal writing to the end of it. I would consider this game appropriate for 9th grade+, and it's the kind of thing that anyone can find engaging. Undertale is just a great game in general, and I'd eventually like to develop a unit around playing the entire game as a class. I actually got inspired to try turning the game into a lesson because of some 9th grade students that I had last year who loved the game. I attached a PDF of a sample lesson plan, which also has the "Clue Sheet" attached. It has Oklahoma State standards in it, but you can easily change the standards to fit into any state (or Common Core).
  • Player Interaction Player interaction is an important characteristic to consider when designing games. The designer has to answer the questions “How is the player going to interact with the game? How will the player interact with other players? what kind of decisions can the player make?” All of these questions should be answered when designing for player interaction. What specific role does player interaction play in game design? Games with “no” player interaction Of course there are games that have “player interaction,” but not the kind of player interaction that you would expect. I like to call these types of games “strategic bingo” where there are decisions to be made, but they affect only individual players For an example, think about the classic game Bingo . Bingo is a game where players take actions, but those actions only affect their own personal game board. Gil Hova likess to call this an aspect of “personal scale.” It’s how a player’s actions affect their just their experience – outside of other players’ experiences. A modern day adaptation of this is with roll-and-write games where specific actions affect individual players and nothing else. These types of games are all about personal scale: where the entirety of actions are limited to a player’s specific sheet or player board. But outside of these types of strategic bingo games, there are other types of games that have different types of player interactions. Accompanying those actions are other strategies and incentives for taking those types of actions. Types of interaction Different types of actions hold different meanings for players and for the whole game play experience. Those types of actions inform players on how they may perform and take actions. One of the identifiable types of player interactions are those in zero-sum games. Zero-sum is a concept where there is no wasted action or resource. That means that if a player takes an action where they are in a better position or “winning” then another player has lost their position and now they are “losing.” The opposite is also true. There are certain actions that players can make in these conditions that allow them to improve and affect their positions in the game. They are: 1. Attacking The Leader 2. Attacking The Loser 3. Winning vs. Highest Placing 4. Helping vs. Hindering Zero-sum games In zero-sum games, your success has to come at the cost of someone else. That is what make the game “zero-sum.” There is no additional actions ore resources added to the economy of the game. Instead, someone else’s loss is your gain. Attacking the leader One of the most popular actions for player to take in these types of games is to attack the leader. Or at least the attacking the person whose standing is perceived to be the one who is winning. This is done often because this person has more resources, better position, or other advantages that make them a ripe target. Otherwise, there are the subjective reasons of attacking the player who has the most to lose by being attacked. One of the most obvious examples of this in classic board games is in Risk . Here, attacking the strongest player often makes the most sense since they are in a better position to win the game. By attacking the strongest player (as in many war games); you weaken their position and make it more difficult for them to win. Attacking the loser Likewise, attacking the loser can also be a feasible strategy given the design of the game. Attacking the loser is something that can be done if a player’s loss of position or resources would gain the attacking player their position or resources. Attacking the loser – or a weakened player – could be advantageous because they are a player who cannot mount an effective defense against you. An example of this would be in a real-time strategy game Starcraft where attacking the losing or weakest player can be advantageous. That is because they are unable to successfully defend against your attack. A successful attack and elimination of this player would earn you access to their resources which would improve your position. Winning vs. highest placing No matter if a player decides to attack the winning player for subjective purposes or the losing player for the strategic purposes; the main motivation for the player is to continue to play in order to win. However, there are certain circumstances in which the player cannot overcome the leading player in the game. In these cases it means that the player can improve their position, but not enough to win the game. That is when the concept of “playing for position” comes into play. Here, players take actions to perform better than other players. Subjectively this means that they won’t finish last or they will outperform another rival in the game. This type of decision gives the player agency to re-define their position. They may not be able to win, but at least they can do better than other players. Helping vs. hindering Helping vs. hindering actions are determined by the nature of player actions. Some players can take actions (particularly in euro table top games ) that will help their position; gain them resources; or build an engine that will help them later in the game. Otherwise, they might have to take a contentious action and hurt another player in the game. The former action gives them the tools necessary to improve their position in the game through their own personal scale. Whereas the latter relies on contention (and zero-sum game play) to hurt another player’s position. However, in certain games you can take the ultimate position of resolving actions that simultaneously help you while hurting someone else. A good table top example of this is in the two player game Jaipur . At the end of each round one player may win the Camel Token which grants them an additional five points. That camel token is going to go to one of the two players at the end of the round. So by taking winning it I earn 5 points. But that also means that my opponent loses 5 points. In effect, winning that Camel Token is a 10 point swing in my favor. Wining it is an action that both helps me while also hurting my opponent. Player interaction in team games Team games are especially important for player interaction. In these games, players are engaged in cooperative play with members of their own team. That means that while they make contention part of their play against their opponents, they must also take into account how they can help and support their teammates. Interaction is an incredibly critical element of game play in team games. As in these cases, players need to be able to coordinate and cooperate in order to position their team to win. A great and fun example of team play in player interaction is in the table top game Captain Sonar. In this game, players play as two teams of 4 players. Each team represents the crew of one submarine that is hunting the opposing submarine. The real time nature of the game makes communication and interaction between teammates challenging, but rewarding. This is especially evident when players must compete against the other team for focus and attention. Player interaction in cooperative games Cooperatives games are like the kind of player interaction in team games. However, in cooperatives games, players must work with each other in order to defeat the common opponent: the game. Games like Pandemic set the players up to collaborate, cooperate, and share knowledge and resources. However, considerations have to be made for how that type of cooperation is achieved. Many cooperatives games with open information fall into the trap of quarterbacking. This is where one player - who has a dominant position and understanding of the game, can exercise their will over the other players in the game. The game now becomes a single player endeavor since one person is making the decisions for everyone. In addition, there are cooperatives games with limited personal information such as The Mind and Hanabi where players must cooperate, but can only share limited information. In this case, that means that the player who is the weakest link has an adverse effect on everyone else. Player interaction in games-based learning Games-based learning’s player interaction comes originates between players as well as with the instructional material. This means that formats for cooperative learning and narrative based learning have the greatest impact on player interaction. In games-based learning, players gain by interacting and cooperating with one another similar to team games and cooperative games. In addition, there are opportunities for players to cooperate together against “the game” through challenges where learning outcomes are prioritized. This could take the form of designers creating games-based learning environments where students must pool their knowledge and cooperate to surmount a challenge in the class related to the subject material. Otherwise students could attempt the challenge on their own, but with much less likely chance for success. Closing thoughts Player interaction is a critical element of game-design and games-based learning. For traditional entertainment games, player interaction can take on a more contentious format. That is when players are motivated to defeat each other. In games-based learning, players are incentivized to collaborate, cooperate, and work together to surmount challenges from the instructional material. In either case, player interaction is prioritized as mode for players to engage with the game, class, or game-based learning environment. This article covered player interaction in games-based learning. For more information on how player interaction affects gamification design, check out the free course on Gamification Explained. Dave Eng, EdD Managing Partner dave@universityxp.com www.universityxp.com References Aleknevicus, G. (2003, March). Player Interaction. Retrieved from http://www.thegamesjournal.com/articles/PlayerInteraction.shtml Hova, G. (March, 2019) Why Indirect or Zero Player Interaction. Presented at the Game Developers Conference GDC. San Francisco https://twvideo01.ubm-us.net/o1/vault/gdc2019/presentations/Hova_Gil_Why_Indirect_Zero.pdf Avtalion, O. (2016, September 5). Roll and Write games. Retrieved from https://boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/213815/roll-and-write-games What is quarterbacking in co-op games? (and how to not do it). (2018, March 8). Retrieved from http://www.datenightgaming.com/quarterbacking-co-op-games-not/
  • I recently wrote about using an RPG in place of a traditional novel for a fourth grade fantasy unit Teched-Up Teacher. Link to full article: http://www.techedupteacher.com/tomorrows-read-aloud-the-rpg/ Synopsis: In our fourth grade PLC, we attempted to leverage the power of digital game- based learning to mitigate the known weaknesses of read alouds (teacher- directed, no student ownership, passive activity, difficult to tell if students are engaged) to improve our ROI (Return on Instruction) during one read aloud session per week. We call this new task “Future Ready Read Alouds”. The learning design/pedagogy was heavily influenced by Tom Murray’s (Director of Innovation for Future Ready Schools) “Learning Transformed: 8 Keys to Designing Tomorrow’s Schools, Today” he co-authored with Eric Sheninger, and James Gee’s (Mary Lou Fulton Presidential Professor of Literacy Studies) “What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy”. Future Ready Read Alouds blend physical and virtual learning spaces to facilitate joint media engagement. We substituted the traditional leveled middle-grade novel with a differentiated (mixed Lexile) middle-grade novel of text embedded within an RPG (role-playing game) format. Students are assigned to groups of four based on reading ability. Each group has a student from the class’s top quartile and one from the bottom quartile. This ensures each group has all students reading fluently at their reading level. Students go beyond reading their characters text by actually exploring the story- world. They control the main characters (graphically represented as sprites) using the keyboard. Students collaborate with their group to make decisions where to go and what to do, and sometimes even what to say (dialogue branch choices). This format may be relatively new to the educational world, but it’s well known in the gaming world (RPG’s debuted to wide audiences in the early 90’s). There are roles beyond “reader” that allow students to be valued for intellectual abilities other than reading. These additional roles (such as explorer, battler, navigator and problem-solver) foster inclusion. All students in a class—including special education and ELL students—can collaborate together, regardless of reading ability. Google Site created by the students and student interviews: https://sites.google.com/rocktwp.net/sydneysworldstudentsite/home?authuser=2