While perusing GameSetWatch, I hop skipped my way through a couple of blogs and found myself at a very interesting article in T.H.E. Journal on using MMORPGs in educational contexts, specifically on their use in second language acquisition. And here I've been doing it the old fashioned way all these years! It's a lengthy article, but worth a read through - author John K. Waters talks about a number of studies and approaches to the topic, but all of them are focused on use WoW and its ilk for educational purposes:
... the results do suggest that EverQuest, and possibly MMORPGs in general, reinforce language acquisition for a number of reasons. The pursuit of quests, for example, requires players to become what Rankin calls "active learners" who engage with other players and the gaming environment. The study also supports Schneider and Zheng's conclusion that the games are inherently motivating.
"The game requires them to do things," Rankin says, "to read directions, to interact with other avatars, to travel over the landscape; that's why they learn the language. You have to comprehend the information that's in front of you in order to advance to different levels and complete the quests. And you can't complete the quests without asking for help from other players, which, again, requires you to understand the language."
This ties in a bit with some of the debate over 'serious games'; I guess just about anything can be made 'serious' in the right context. I especially loved the suggestion that Blizzard could make a killing if they opened ESL servers up in Asia.