Here in the Middle Kingdom it is absolutely free to download the game World of Warcraft directly off the battlenet.com.cn website (all expansions/patches included). Three thousand minutes of playtime on a Chinese server costs 30元（≈ US $5). To set up an account on the Chinese battlenet you will be forced to input a Chinese ID card number (I had a local friend help), but once you have an account the download and installation process is as easy as clicking a button, no discs or credit card needed. You can buy time cards in one of the many internet cafes [网吧] spread throughout China to re-fill your account’s play time. The infamously immersive environment that WoW creates is a wonderful tool for learning Chinese and interacting with native speakers online. And if you are learning a language, interaction is crucial (both online and offline).
There are many reasons why immersing yourself in a foreign language MMORPG can increase language competence, and I’d like to document a few here:
1.) It’s comprehensive: playing WoW combines reading, listening, writing, and speaking.
While developing your character, you will constantly read in-game text, and you can keep your Pleco dictionary handy in case you discover new words. You will rummage through your bag, inspecting quest items and drops. Every item includes a description when you hover your mouse, and there are an astonishing array of things in the game.
Within the game you can explore the world, “meet” in game characters, go on archaeological digs, develop your engineering profession, fish, and enchant items. All in Chinese.
And since WoW is an online game, you will be able to speak to actual people as you run through dungeons and raids. Buy a microphone headset and engage with players in real time or just stick to writing Chinese in the chat screen. Either way people will sometimes talk about their lives. Where they are from, what they do, tests coming up, a naggy wife, whatever people talk about. Inside the game it’s a low pressure setting, and anonymity makes people open up. I have also picked up some Internet language and interesting slang that people use to get around the profanity filter. And like always, if you don’t understand everything don’t worry. Just keep swimming.
” Confucius says it doesn’t matter how slow you go, as long as you don’t stop. 孔夫子说这个问题不在于你去慢慢地去解决，只要你不停止脚步！”
2.) It’s fun.
This may seem like the most obvious reason, but it’s true. Learning a language is a process, and it takes time. So whatever time you can spend immersed in the language is not time wasted. Even if that means indulging your guilty pleasures in Chinese. If you get burnt out on reading books and watching corny TV dramas find another way to interact with the language. Play a game or read a delicious Chinese recipe. Watch a dubbed Anime or listen to a good podcast. Whatever works, and for me WoW tickles the amusement spot.
3.) You will have encounters with Chinese people that are unaware you are a foreigner.
When chatting in WoW it’s not immediately obvious that you are a foreigner. This is an impossible interaction to have in the real world, where the foreigner factor will color every aspect of your life. When engaging with people on WoW, I am hardly conscious of my race as a white person. The same can’t be said in most normal offline situations here. This opened up a new world to me, one where Chinese people speak more frankly and don’t ask me the same ten questions over and over again. “Wow you’re Chinese is good! Where are you from? Why did you come to China? You can eat Chinese food?”….
4.) You don’t have to leave the house
Before I settled into a more domesticated lifestyle with my girlfriend I would wander the streets of China in boredom and meet whoever there was to meet. Play basketball with whoever was playing. Talk with whoever was talking. Eat with whoever was eating. Drink with whoever was drinking.
Now I enjoy spending more time at home with my Brazilian lady, and even if we go out our circle of friends is made up of many foreign people. This might change as she starts her Master’s Degree in Chinese, but WoW happens to be a convenient portal into the world of China for me. Safe and sound, and with significantly less gawking.
5.) You will be forced to do research in Chinese.
Can’t figure out what you need to do for a specific quest? Want to read about how to get that dragon mount you saw some guy fly past on? Not sure what the right auction house price is for the herbs you harvested? Baidu to the rescue. Just type in the quest name or question you have and you’re bound to find an answer somewhere. There are entire databases online dedicated to helping you solve your problems.
There are plenty of reasons that playing WoW on a Chinese server can help you learn the language. Imagine an entire fantasy world all built to interact with you in your target language. Mastering your character and learning which talents/skills are effective takes time and effort. You’ll learn Chinese words like “Plate Armor” [板甲] and Orgrimmar [奥格瑞玛], but you can just as easily learn words to describe objects, actions, and people. People will describe strategic movements you should make in the game, which could help you to better direct taxi cabs in colloquial Chinese. Not all the language is useful, but I’ve certainly learned from my experience playing.
And while video games can seem like a waste of time, there is research that claims gaming could increase your quality of life.
Jane McGonigal has done research into how gaming can positively impact our lives. She herself used gaming to overcome the obstacles she faced when recovering from a serious concussion. She explains some of the benefits of collaborative game play, saying:
“When we play a good game, we get to practice being the best version of ourselves: We become more optimistic, more creative, more focused, more likely to set ambitious goals, and more resilient in the face of failure. And when we play multiplayer games, we become more collaborative and more likely to help others. In fact, we like and trust each other more after we play a game together — even if we lose! And more importantly, playing a game with someone is an incredibly effective way to get to know their strengths and weaknesses–as well as what motivates them. This is exactly the kind of social knowledge we need to be able to cooperate and collaborate with people to tackle real-world challenges.”
It’s easy to see how this quote can be applied to learning a language as much as role playing games, although playing WoW in Chinese combines the effects of both. I have friends who have found and enjoyed playing Pokemon, Final Fantasy, and other role playing games in Chinese. Happy gaming! I’ll see you in the world.