The use of computer games in education is going to be tested out in four secondary schools in the UK.
Games like The Sims provide opportunities to experiment
The project aims to find ways in which school teachers can include video games in their teaching.
It will also be trying to help game developers learn about potential educational uses for their products.
The year-long project is being backed by the games giant Electronic Arts (EA) and lottery-funded education organisation Futurelab.
Of the four schools taking part in the trial, three are part of the UK education system and one is a German school in London. There are plans to extend the scheme across Europe using these schools as a model.
Education and recreation
The project will focus around not just so-called "edutainment" titles which are traditionally used in schools, but also around commercial games which students are used to playing at home.
The idea of using video games in schools is not new. Educational software packages have been in use in UK schools since the early 1990s.
But until recently, the line between educational and recreational games has been very clearly drawn.
Claus Due, market development manager for EA Europe, said the time was right for this study.
"Computer games engage the brain like no other media," he said. "We believe that children can and already do learn a lot through them."
Practicalities of play
Teachers at the trial schools will have control over which games are used in the project. They will be helped by education experts to develop teaching methods to make best use of them.
Futurelab, which is leading the research, hopes that the study will contribute to a move "away from the bland edutainment games that are currently on offer towards genuinely compelling games that support learning."
Likely candidates for use in the classroom include games which relate to historical events, such as Civilization or the Age of Empires series, or those which model real life in some way, like The Sims.
Games which provide strategic elements may be used
Some mainstream games, such as Sim City, are already used in many classrooms.
They hope to look in detail at the practicalities of using games in teaching, focusing on specific examples of what children get out of them and whether changes are needed to make them genuine educational tools.
Educational road map
"To date no one has really investigated what young people might be able to learn from games and how they might be best introduced in schools," said Annika Small, managing director of Futurelab.
"We propose to do this by working closely with teachers and students to design new support materials for use with commercial games.
"We will evaluate the success of these materials and identify aspects of games that developers could make more relevant to an educational environment," she said.
Futurelab hopes that the results will help it produce "a road map for educators across Europe".
The cost of substitute teaching will be met by EA so that teachers' involvement in the project does not impact on their students' regular lessons.
The study is expected to have an overall cost of over £300,000. A report on its findings is expected in August next year.