My short and to the point suggestion is to take the idea of Typing of the Dead, and expand upon that concept further with other high profile games and other subjects. It is a better approach to get at the attention of users and hold it for prolonged periods of time while educating.
House of the Dead was a popular game that, while violent, was entertaining for people of various ages. Typing of the Dead was a typing teacher that was based on this successful videogame product, and had a small degree of critical acclaim on its own.
Focus on STEM subjects would be ideal as this would have a net positive cyclical result in increasing interest in those subjects by more strongly associating videogames with STEM subjects.
In the area of impact on focus, I think more rigorous study needs to be done in this area. Because of media saturation, it is best to think in terms of multitasking with concepts that work in parallel rather than in contrast.
The main problem with most educational games is they lose their attraction over time, completely by the time a child enters their teens. While the toddler to pre-teen space is filled with educational games and devices from companies like Leapfrog with their LeapPad & Leapster line of devices, they fail at the fundamentals of making those games entertaining enough to keep kids working at their learning tasks for prolonged periods of time.
In some ways, Leapfrog does their job well enough, but reaches the limits of their ability to maintain interest over time, both within a given session, and over the life time of the user between early childhood and pre-teenage years. As a consequence, their value as an educational entertainment product fades.
Similarly to the LeapFrog approach, there is the Sesame Street based educational video games.
In my unvarnished opinion, this is a mediocre attempt at educational entertainment.
This process should not just be about grabbing the attention of children, but adults as well. One of the key failings of parents trying to help their kids reach their educational goals, is a lack of educational engagement. With low parental engagement, children that are left to their own devices to study and advance tend to struggle significantly. If there is a skills deficit with the parent, this can increase difficulties in maintaining child focus. If there are learning disability issues with the child, this can only exacerbate things even further.
From a standpoint of maintaining focus, using more entertaining videogames seems that it would be a great deal more successful. Successful at countering the focus issues, especially for children with ADD or ADHD.
Here is a list of older games that were “imposed” during the 1980’s, and have generated significant nostalgia. However, I would not say these are the direction that educational videogames should follow. I would instead suggest that educational video games improve over what has been done before.
*EA’s MADDEN NFL series: Physics, Math, English Grammar
As a suggestion, this is phenomenally popular, can be targeted to a wide ranging audience, regardless of concerns over ratings and content. If this game had a user perform math problems using the numbers on the jerseys, and post problem achievements online, there would be strong motivation to do well on the leaderboards.
*Ubisoft’s Assassin’s creed series: History, English Grammar
This is a game that does gameplay elements focusing around historical periods. If these events were adjusted by a history professor, and there was a need for doing well with this information to complete quests in the game, maybe people would know more about the world we live in.
*TETRIS: Geometry, Math, pre-algebra, algebra, linear equations
This game is everywhere; it lends itself well to teaching Mathematical subjects ranging from the basics to matrix calculations by replacing blocks with numbers and mathematical formulation glyphs.
*Gran Turismo series: Physics, Math, Engineering, Electronics, Computer science, career ambition
This game series is obsessed with the details in Cars, the possibilities for learning marketable skills are through the rough if done correctly. Image a virtual auto body shop that taught a user how to build a 21st century automobile (Electrical or Gas powered) for real, then let them race it. What if it gave the users bonus points for making it more green-friendly, then let them upload the specs for consumption by the automotive industry complete with the possibility of getting a design contract?