Considerable changes have occurred in language learning with the introduction of gameful approaches in the classroom and the increase in the popularity of language applications like Duolingo. A review of existing studies on such approaches to language learning shows that gamification tends to be the most popular approach. However, this popularity has been achieved at the expense of other gameful approaches, such as the use of digital games. To gain a clearer picture of the developments and gaps in the digital game-based learning research, this paper examines and categorizes observations about game elements used in published papers (n = 114) where serious and digital games were tested in language education settings. Game element analysis reveals that (1) the most frequently occurring elements in digital game-based language learning (DGBLL) are feedback, theme, points, narrative, and levels; (2) even though there was significant variance in the number of elements observed in DGBLL, both the bespoke and off-the-shelf games show similar high-frequency elements; (3) DGBLL has been applied to vocabulary acquisition and retention in many cases, but lacks implementation and testing in input and output language skills; (4) although there is some consensus on the most frequent elements, the design patterns of common elements according to age group and target language skill show considerable variance; (5) more research is needed on less common design elements that have shown promise in encouraging language acquisition. The synthesis of information from the collected papers contributes to knowledge regarding DGBLL application design and will help formulate guidelines and detect efficacy patterns as the field continues to grow.
The full version can be found on the Sustainability website here: https://www.mdpi.com/2071-1050/13/12/6679