I was chatting with a fellow Chinese historian this weekend when he confessed that his interest in Chinese history could be traced back to receiving a copy of Romance of the Three Kingdoms for SNES. I thought of that while reading Duncan Fyfe's essay on the potential 'educational' uses of regular, AAA titles — which isn't really so much on the potential to educate as much as inspire (as insipid as that sounds) in subtle ways:
Video games can be gateways to higher learning. Is it idealistic? Sure. But the base repudiation of idealism is so often used as a shield against saying anything interesting. Anti-idealism is what keeps triple-A games generic, and the reversal of that trend should already be a good enough target.
Compare the social value of these games to that of Halo or Oblivion. They're just as entertaining, but they are not relevant to any humanitarian or political discussion, and are certainly not literary. The Wire and The West Wing will not reform government but they will challenge and galvanise their viewers.
I'd be curious to know how many people actually went out and tackled Ayn Rand after playing BioShock; I'm also a little skittish about the idea of heavy handed philosophy and the like making a strong appearance (one Xenosaga series was enough, thank you). Fyfe's opinions aren't new by any means, and can be found in just about any essay talking about more 'grown up' themes in games. Interesting essay and worth a look.
Video Games Are The Silver Bullet [GameSetWatch]