The idea of using games as an educational tool is nothing new. For centuries, games such as chess have been used to teach particular methods of thinking, one of the purposes of education. However, it is only with the advent of computing that there has been a serious interest in the other purpose of education, that of imparting knowledge. However, the majority of these games have been poorly designed, and have resembled nothing more than overdeveloped interactive textbooks.
Educational games have in the main been much maligned, and rightly so. The majority seem to have designed by people who fail to understand what distinguishes a good game from a bad, and what motivates players. Quadrilateral equations and basic chemistry are believed to be as absorbing as rescuing hostages and capturing spawn points, merely by virtue of being on a computer. Even in the best designed examples of the genre, such as the Dr Brain series from Sierra, there is the fundamental design flaw of the player being rewarded for learning with the prospect of more learning(and anyone who values learning as a reward in itself does not require assistance from an educational game). This is the inevitable result of a regarding educational games as a genre, rather than viewing educational value as a feature of the game.
The enjoyment a player gets from a game can be broadly divided into two categories-process and reward, with process comprising the actual playing of the game-the interface, levels, immersion, content and interaction of game mechanics, and reward being either the internal game benefit or external feeling of satisfaction or success the player gains from the process. Gameplay can be split into four areas- those where the player values the reward or enjoys the process, those where the player values the reward and enjoys the process, and those where the player neither values the reward nor enjoys the process.
From here, there are two options for creating a game with educational value:
NB:"Not enjoy" in this instance does not imply an active dislike. It just means the player regards the process as work to be put into the game, rather than enjoyment to be gained from it.. Gameplay in category 2 tends to be limited to small segments of games, usually RPGs and strategy games, and rarely mandatory for advancement or completion. For example, breeding a Gold Chocobo in Final Fantasy VII, or fine tuning a creatures personality and training in Black and White.
Enjoying the Process and/or Reward
As has been noted, those who value learning for it's own sake have little need of explicitly educational software(which is why enjoying the process but not valuing the reward is not a suitable gameplay model). Those who do not have little to gain from it For all their quality, the Dr Brain games from Sierra, one of the best examples of traditional edutainment, were primarily interactive textbooks.. The focus should be on making the player wish to learn, and to do this and have them enjoy the process it is necessary to both hide from them the fact that they are learning, and to integrate it well enough into the game that players wish to participate in it. At the very least, it must be contiguous with the game setting and genre. At best, it should be integrated well enough that the player believes he is being immersed in the game world, and is gaining information and backstory. Here are a series of rules I believe can be applied to the development of educational software