I never really started doing well at school until I hit high school. That's round about the same time that I got my first PC. While I'm grateful for the education I had, I think I can say that I learn as much from playing games and watching Star Trek as I did from school.
Games have quite a bad reputation, especially among people that never play them. They see flashing lights and characters running around and assume that it all mindless killing and to be fair for some games it is. But when I was growing up – and now as well – it wasn't that kind of game that I enjoyed.
I grew up with games like Master of Magic and Master of Orion (from the same people that made the first Civ, but it's in a fanstasy and sci-fi setting). These games were far from the shoot em up killing sprees. They were about managing empires and often in quite detailed ways. If you wanted to play them well you had to be smart. You had to work out the maths for empire management and balance the economy with research. You had to know the races in detail and learn big words like lithovore and transcendental. You had to have some basic knowledge of science – especially physics and they inspired you to learn more and to read more. It was the same for RPG's as well. Games like Ultima and Bloodwych. Thinking ahead for your character, reading the detailed stories, problem solving, asking questions about morality and philosophy and engaging your imagination. People who have never played these games before should try them. I'm sure they would be stunned by the complexity.
So am I advocating dropping school curriculum and replacing it with intelligent gaming? Well, not yet – that would put me out of a job for a start. But I think we have to recognise that games can be a very positive thing especially for some students. It's a good learning style for some people, so why don't we use it more? Instead of telling children to stop enjoying themselves and to stop playing “waste of time” games. Let's instead direct them towards games that are going to challenge them – note though that I'm not talking about some of these forced education games that appear in schools and learning websites, but rather proper popular games that children are going to enjoy and which they can practice in a fun and indirect way, all the things that we are trying to teach them in school.
Note: if you're looking for an educational game I'd say the best one that is out at the moment still has to be Civilization 5.