I used to think so too… then I got a job making educational games and I found out why they turn out the way they do. People in education who think games are just “a stupid thing,” are a tiny minority. The majority of those involved really do care about the games and their players.
Sorry about the long, off-topic post ahead, but I think some would consider the information interesting.
TL;DR: it’s complicated.
At first, games and education look like a really good fit: All games are inherently educational. FPS games teach spatial awareness, map interpretation, train response time, peripheral vision, precise motor movement, etc. Apparently, when a school decides to make use of the educational power of games, something goes wrong.
Unlike other games, edugames aren’t played. “Play” is voluntary, people choose to play based on what they find fun/challenging (more on this in Raph Koster’s “A Theory of Fun For Game Design”). This might look like it’s not a big deal (Kids like games, right? Why wouldn’t they want to play them?!) but it has consequences, for both student and game designer, that ultimately make educational games not feel like games at all.
When a teacher tells a student “Hey, let’s play this game!”, no matter how enthusiastically he says it, the student partakes in an activity that is imposed. This makes children predisposed to not liking a game, in much the same way that lots of kids don’t like to read books. Reading a good book can be a pleasureful activity for children. Going through the effort of sitting through 100 pages of text instead of watching TV, just because an adult told you to, can actually be painful. This directly influences how much effort a player will put in to it. Paid $60 on a game on Steam? You’re going to try hard to get your money’s worth out of it. Got forced out of bed early because you had to go to school and somebody shoved a tablet into your hands? Meh.
Then there’s the game designer’s side:
All games have a target audience. Generally something broad like “girls from ages 10-14”. The idea being that a percentage of the population within that demographic will find something in that game appealing enough to buy, and a much smaller percentage will play it to the end. But educational games? “This is a game for 7th grade.” This might look more specific, but it is very broad. Since it’s imposed, every kid in that class has to reach the end. Boys, girls, casual, core gamers… and the “technologically-illiterate” who have never used a touchscreen/joystick/keyboard/mouse (the amount of kids like this is surprisingly large) and the ones with learning/movement/eyesight disabilities. Forget about drag-and-drop, simply clicking on something can be really hard for lots of people (kids and adults!).
We got reports of kids literally crying because they had to use a mouse.
Can a good game be made with all those needs in mind? Maybe. Planning, testing, reviewing, rewriting, more testing. All sorts of issues show up in testing (“Need to change the mechanic, kids these days don’t know what a slingshot is.”). It’s a lot of work. For that, the game designer needs time. Now make X games for each chapter of the math book that 7th grade is going to use next year. Are the geography games ready, yet? School curriculums change a bit each year, for many reasons (what, the government wants us to teach music, now?). This means that material often needs to be produced and ready for evaluation in less than a year. It’s a lot of work for a team to design, develop, play-test, and re-adjust all the games for a single book in a year.
Programmers who like multi-threading would quickly propose a solution: this can all be done in parallel!
But then budgets become an issue. Having multiple teams is really expensive.
The result is invariably a series of very simple games that are strictly adhering to a subject, can’t have too many distractions, must be visually simple and easy to interact with, and must be explained to the player with narration that is slow and clear.
Oh, and anything that might resemble violence is strictly forbidden. A character might get hit with a water-balloon? Too violent. “We’ll get complaints from parents. It’ll make the kids violent. Take out the character.”