I grew up with the belief firmly implanted in my head that video games were a bad influence that would distract me from more constructive pursuits, namely, reading. If the Internet had been as engrossing as it is now among kids, then that probably would have made the list, too. But technology isn't an absolute distraction, as I wrote before a few weeks back, nor it is an immediate boon to any educational pursuit. It depends on how it's utilized, even if it happens to be a video game.
PETLab, a research lab at the Parsons School of Design, seeks to find ways through which video games can further educational pursuits, particularly with regard to social causes. The article about the study, which can be found at eSchool News, mentions the example of military training, which has incorporated games that simulate possible situations that troops might face. Apparently, training games have also made their way into the classroom as tools for teachers and administrators.
The article also links to an example of one such educational game, which brings attention to poverty in Haiti. The game, Ayiti: The Cost of Life, was developed through a collaboration of the nonprofit organization Global Kids, a group of students from Brooklyn, New York, and game developers at Gamelab. UNICEF partnered in hosting the game.
The game in progress
Ayiti: The Cost of Life is fairly reminiscent of The Oregon Trail (but with much better graphics than the original version, of course): players aim to keep a family from dying. The even higher goal is to secure an education for as many members as possible. The game is definitely worth checking out, at least (and perhaps especially) for the background information on the its creators and the scenario it simulates — life for a poor family in Haiti.
Barely squeaking by financially
Although not traditional schooling in terms of reading, 'riting, and 'rithmetic, it's great to see potentially mindless technology targeted towards social good. And come to think of it, schools definitely do seek to instill values pertaining to social good. Canned food drives and donations to the United Way all throughout my K-12 education are two examples that come to mind. If PETLab succeeds in developing games similar to Ayiti: The Cost of Life, it will surely contribute to providing students valuable lessons in social studies — in the full sense of the term.