Games are found in all cultures, even the most "primitive". The need to play (gaming being a rule-driven offshoot, I'd guess) lies very deep in the human code, and the dominant theory seems to be that play is not just what the young ones do the kill time between meals, but an adaptive strategy of evolution.
Play, and the more structured variant that emerged with human's abstractive abilities we call games may help us prepare for life, whether it be stalking prey in the bush or making it in the corporate world. Games are inherently reinforcing, communal, fun, and sometimes even reach over into life-or death consequences for the players. Whatever form they take in a culture, games clearly invoke learning results and are worthy of note for anyone interested in building effective learning devices.
Games, as we know can be addictive too, hence they present a business opportunity.
Games get big audiences on TV, but the actience dimension is where it's at. Electronic gaming is huge, a multi-billion dollar business these days, and in terms of sheer hours of attention paid them, console and online games combined probably already surpass commercial television, if not music and movies as well.
Because of their potential to hold attention, present information and provoke adaptive (winning) responses, over and over again, gaming lies on the frontier of educational and training practice, but the players are mounting up and it's a good part of the border to be policing.
Games seem to fit nicely into the constructivist perspective we have adopted in this blog. They are engineered environments in which the learner makes his choices and responds to the results. Broadly speaking, Seymour Papert's Mindstorms are building games, but any medium that has free parts and carries along a set of connective rules for them qualifies as well.
As I've been browsing the field, I ran across several interesting papers at the Education Arcade (established by leading scholars of digital games and education at MIT funded by the Hewlett Foundation, Microsoft and others) They have developed some intriguing game concepts and pedagogy for math, science and humanities they hope to mix with state-of-the-art game play. Link