Readers, Players, and Watchers: Short and Long-term Vocabulary Retention through Digital Video Games

Mohsen Ebrahimzadeh, Sepideh Alavi


The study investigated short- and long-term vocabulary retention through a digital video game. Participants were 241 male students (age 12–18) randomly assigned to three treatments, namely, Readers who learned vocabulary through intensive reading, Players who learned vocabulary through playing a digital video game, and Watchers who learned by watching two classmates play the digital video game. Twenty one words (simple and compound nouns) were pretested and then followed by the interventions which lasted for five weeks. The same pretest was posttested twice: As a one month and a three months delayed posttest after the study to measure short- and long-term vocabulary retention respectively. Results indicated that the Players and Watchers outperformed the Readers in terms of both short- and long-term vocabulary retention. The Readers were the only group to forget a significant number of words on the three-months delayed posttest. Only the Players’ treatment was equally effective for learning both simple and compound nouns. The Players showed the highest mean score on both posttests and the least drop from the short- to long-term posttest. It is concluded that digital video games can help students retain vocabulary over a longer time period.


digital video games, game-based language learning, vocabulary retention, vocabulary learning, reading-based vocabulary learning

Full Text:



Ang, S. C., & Zaphiris, P. (2008). Computer games and language learning. In T. T. Kidd & H. Song (Eds.), Handbook of research on instructional systems and technology (Vol. 1, pp. 449-462). Hershey, PA: IGI Global.

Arnseth, H. C. (2006). Learning to play or playing to learn - A critical account of the models of communication informing educational research on computer gameplay. Game Studies: The International Journal of Computer Game Research, 6(1).

Blizzard. (2003). Warcraft III: The Frozen Throne [Computer software]. USA: Blizzard Entertainment. Retrieved from

Buckley, K. E., & Anderson, C. A. (2006). A theoretical model of the effects and consequences of playing video games. In P. Vorderer & J. Bryant (Eds.), Playing video games: Motives, responses, and consequences (pp. 363-378). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Cambridge English Language Assessment. (2013). Cambridge Young Learners English (YLE). Cambridge: Association of Language Testers in Europe.

Clark, R. C., & Mayer, R. E. (2011). E-Learning and the science of instruction proven guidelines for consumers and designers of multimedia learning (3rd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer.

Cobb, T., & Horst, M. (2011). Does Word Coach coach words? CALICO Journal, 28(3), 639-661. doi: 10.11139/cj.28.3.639-661

Cornillie, F., Thorne, S. L., & Desmet, P. (2012). Digital games for language learning: From hype to insight? [Special issue]. ReCALL, 24(3), 243-256. doi: 10.1017/S0958344012000134

Fincher-Kiefer, R., Post, T. A., Greene, T. R., & Voss, J. F. (1988). On the role of prior knowledge and task demands in the processing of text. Journal of Memory and Language, 27(4), 416-428. doi: 10.1016/0749-596X(88)90065-4

Folse, K. S. (2006). The effect of type of written exercise on L2 vocabulary retention. TESOL Quarterly, 40(2), 273-293. doi: 10.2307/40264523

Gee, J. P. (2003). What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

Gibson, D., Aldrich, C., & Prensky, M. (Eds.). (2006). Games and simulations in online learning: Research and development frameworks. Hershey, PA: Information Science.

Groot, P. J. M. (2000). Computer assisted second language vocabulary acquisition. Language Learning & Technology, 4(1), 60-81.

Hitosugi, C. I., Schmidt, M., & Hayashi, K. (2014). Digital game–based learning (DGBL) in the L2 classroom: The impact of the UN’s off-the-shelf videogame, Food Force, on learner affect and vocabulary retention. CALICO Journal, 31(1), 19-39. doi: 10.11139/cj.31.1.19-39

Hsueh-Chao, M. H., & Nation, I. S. P. (2000). Unknown vocabulary density and reading comprehension. Reading in a Foreign Language, 13(1), 403-430.

Hulstijn, J. H. (1992). Retention of inferred and given word meanings: Experiments in incidental vocabulary learning. In P. Arnaud & H. Bejoint (Eds.), Vocabulary and applied linguistics (pp. 113-125). London: Macmillan.

Hulstijn, J. H. (2001). Intentional and incidental second-language vocabulary learning: A reappraisal of elaboration, rehearsal and automaticity. In P. Robinson (Ed.), Cognition and second language instruction (pp. 258-286). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

IceFrog. (2015). Defense of the Ancients (V. 6.78c AI 1.4e) [Computer software]. Retrieved from

Kettemann, B. (1995). How effective is CALL in ELT? ReCALL, 7(1), 49-53. doi: 10.1017/S0958344000005103

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

Laufer, B., & Hulstijn, J. H. (2001). Incidental vocabulary acquisition in a second language: The construct of task-induced involvement. Applied Linguistics, 22(1), 1-26. doi: 10.1093/applin/22.1.1

Ma, Q., & Kelly, P. (2006). Computer assisted vocabulary learning: Design and evaluation. Computer Assisted Language Learning, 19(1), 15-45. doi: 10.1080/09588220600803998

Mayer, R. E. (2002). Multimedia learning. Psychology of Learning and Motivation, 41, 85-139. doi: 10.1016/S0079-7421(02)80005-6

Mayer, R. E. (2014). Introduction to multimedia learning. In R. E. Mayer (Ed.), The Cambridge handbook of multimedia learning (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Mayer, R. E., & Anderson, R. B. (1991). Animations need narrations: An experimental test of a dual-coding hypothesis. Journal of Educational Psychology, 83(4), 484-490. doi: 10.1037/0022-0663.83.4.484

Mayer, R. E., & Anderson, R. B. (1992). The instructive animation: Helping students build connections between words and pictures in multimedia learning. Journal of Educational Psychology, 84(4), 444-452. doi: 10.1037//0022-0663.84.4.444

Meyers, P. C. (2010). Incidental foreign language vocabulary learning from generative tasks. (Unpublished doctoral thesis), Temple University, USA.

Min, H.-T. (2008). EFL vocabulary acquisition and retention: Reading plus vocabulary enhancement activities and narrow reading. Language Learning, 58(1), 73-115. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9922.2007.00435.x

Nation, I. S. P. (2001). Learning vocabulary in another language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Nation, I. S. P. (2002). Range (V. 1.29) [Computer software]. Retrieved from

Nation, I. S. P. (2009). Teaching ESL/EFL reading and writing. New York, NY: Routledge.

Nation, I. S. P., & Waring, R. (1997). Vocabulary size, text coverage, and word lists. In N. Schmitt & M. McCarthy (Eds.), Vocabulary: Description, acquisition, and pedagogy (pp. 6-19). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Newton, J. (1995). Task-based interaction and incidental vocabulary learning: A case study. Second Language Research, 11(2), 159-176. doi: 10.1177/026765839501100207

Nunan, D. (1999). Second language teaching & learning. Florence, KY: Heinle & Heinle.

Paribakht, T. S., & Wesche, M. (1997). Vocabulary enhancement activities and reading for meaning in second language vocabulary acquisition. In J. Coady & T. Huckin (Eds.), Second language vocabulary acquisition: A rationale for pedagogy (pp. 174-200). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Prensky, M. (2007). Digital game-based learning. St. Paul, MN: Paragon House.

Reinhardt, J., & Sykes, J. M. (2012). Conceptualizing digital game-mediated L2 learning and pedagogy: Game-enhanced and game-based research and practice. In H. Reinders (Ed.), Digital games in language learning and teaching (pp. 32-49). New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

Rollings, A., & Adams, E. (2003). Andrew Rollings and Ernest Adams on game design. San Francisco, CA: New Riders Publishing.

Schmitt, N., Jiang, X., & Grabe, W. (2011). The percentage of words known in a text and reading comprehension. The Modern Language Journal, 95(1), 26-43. doi: 10.1111/j.1540-4781.2011.01146.x

Smith, G. G., Li, M., Drobisz, J., Park, H. R., Kim, D., & Smith, S. D. (2013). Play games or study? Computer games in ebooks to learn English vocabulary. Computers & Education, 69, 274-286. doi: 10.1016/j.compedu.2013.07.015

Stevens, J. P. (2009). Applied multivariate statistics for the social sciences (5th ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.

Swain, M. (1985). Communicative competence: Some roles of comprehensible input and comprehensible output in its development. In S. Gass & C. Madden (Eds.), Input and second language acquisition Rowley, MA: Newbury House.

Swain, M., & Lapkin, S. (1995). Problems in output and the cognitive processes they generate: A step towards second language learning. Applied Linguistics, 16(3), 371-391. doi: 10.1093/applin/16.3.371

Sweetser, P., & Wyeth, P. (2005). GameFlow: A model for evaluating player enjoyment in games. ACM Computers in Entertainment, 3(3), 1-24.

Sylvén, L. K., & Sundqvist, P. (2012). Gaming as extramural English L2 learning and L2 proficiency among young learners [Special issue]. ReCALL, 24(3), 302-321. doi: 10.1017/S095834401200016X

Thomas, M. (2012). Contextualizing digital game-based language learning: Transformational paradigm shift or business as usual? In H. Reinders (Ed.), Digital games in language learning and teaching (pp. 11-31). Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

Thorne, S. L., & Fischer, I. (2012). Online gaming as sociable media. ALSIC: Apprentissage des Langues et Systèmes d’Information et de Communication, 15(1), 1-25.

Tsai, C. W., & Fan, Y. T. (2013). Research trends in game-based learning research in online learning environments: A review of studies published in SSCI-indexed journals from 2003 to 2012. British Journal of Educational Technology, 44(5), 115-119. doi: 10.1111/bjet.12031

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

Waring, R., & Takaki, M. (2003). At what rate do learners learn and retain new vocabulary from reading a graded reader? Reading in a Foreign Language, 15(2), 130-163.



  • There are currently no refbacks.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

2012-2021 (CC-BY) Australian International Academic Centre PTY.LTD

International Journal of Applied Linguistics and English Literature

To make sure that you can receive messages from us, please add the journal emails into your e-mail 'safe list'. If you do not receive e-mail in your 'inbox', check your 'bulk mail' or 'junk mail' folders.