What do video games have that language learning doesn’t? Why will some people (me included) repeat the same level over and over, trying to master the tiniest details of a game; but they lose concentration and give up after only a short time while trying to learn a language (again, me included)?

What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy by James Paul Gee takes a critical look at games from the perspective of a linguistics professor turned gamer. He started “helping” his 11 year-old grandson play a game one day and when his grandson eventually revoked his coaching privileges, he decided to play the game, and other games for himself. The first thing he realized is that games are long, difficult and they require the player to learn to do things in a new way. Next, he realized that he found this difficult struggle to learn something new to be “life-affirming”. He likened it to the time when he changed directions in graduate school and was pulled out of his routinized ways of working. He also points out that gamers want harder and longer games, something that can’t be said for school curriculum.

He identifies 37 principles which are part of effective learning environments, whether they are video games or classrooms (there’s a summary in the first link above). You can also read a few pages of the first chapters, where he discusses his first experiences with games and game learning, on Amazon.