There have, in the past, been many attempts to make educational games. With the exception of a few unusual successes (with The_Oregon_Trail perhaps being the earliest), these “edu-tainment” titles have generally been colossal failures.
However, there is no reason that the fusion of gameplay and education must necessarily result in a terrible game.
Here, we consider a few ways to sneak educational elements into games without ruining the gameplay (and in some instances, the educational element is what inspires the gameplay in the first place!).
Fig 1: This is a traditional arcade space shooter. The player controls the gray ship at the bottom of the screen, and various alien invaders menace the ship. These invaders are also marked with letters, like Scrabble tiles. The player’s goal is to spell high-scoring words by shooting ships in the right order to spell a high-scoring word.
Fig 2: Words that the player spells are listed on the screen (optionally with a definition, to make this game suitable for SAT / GRE preparation).
The 1991 game “Wordtris” (a Tetris spinoff) is somewhat similar to this—it’s like Tetris, except that the player’s goal is to spell words (instead of creating horizontal lines). Screenshots here: https://www.google.com/search?q=wordtris
Proposal 2: Retrofit any game genre into an “educational” game by taking over the loading screens
Most games have occasional loading screens. This would be an easy place to provide useful educational facts about the world without impacting gameplay at all.
For example, below are a screenshot of a loading screen from Dark Souls II and a corresponding “edutainment” version of the same loading screen.
Fig 3: Loading screens in many games show you gameplay tips (e.g. “Press X to use the grappling hook”) or world-building information. The example seen here is from Dark Souls II.
Fig 4: Instead of showing fictional tips, a loading screen could provide actual facts about the world. This might lead to both an increase in bar trivia performance and in occasionally motivating a player to learn something more about the world.
Proposal 3: A survival game where friend / foe is determined by text
In this survival sim / zombie game proposal, one’s fellow survivors are marked with a sentence that changes every hour.
For uninfected individuals, this would be some random true statement (“The United States was originally composed of 13 states.”). However, if a survivor is seen with a false statement (“Aquatic snakes are known as eels“), it means they have been infected by the zombie virus.
Although “edutainment” is not a well-regarded genre, perhaps it can be revitalized with techniques similar to the examples above.
PROS: Helps train the next generation of leaders, scientists, and artists.
CONS: Possibly the next generation of leaders, scientists, and artists will be made obsolete by a huge all-knowing robot brain, thus rendering these efforts futile.