Here’s an idea for a video game:
You play as the tutor or mentor to the heir to an empire. It can be an historical empire, or a fantasy empire, but if it’s a fantasy empire, the protagonist character should be from our world, and have access to our culture.
The primary gameplay mechanic would be the selection of a series of reading lists for the future king. Your choices have consequences for his (or her) moral development, thinking skills, political and interpersonal savvy, etc. Do you have them read Machiavelli, Jesus, Ayn Rand? Shakespeare or Arthur Miller? Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys? How much can you assign them, before you risk diluting their attention or earning their enmity? How much should you cater to their tastes? How much can you afford to challenge them? What are the unintended consequences of your selections? (For example, what if you select a story which you think is about justice, but your pupil is far more interested in the gender mores, or how a certain character reminds them of their father?)
Your pupil has limited time and attention, and you have to decide what is most important for them to learn. You make those decisions based on the ongoing history of the empire and the world, the current political situation, and events (some pedestrian, some momentous) which unfold around your pupil — and in response to the feedback they give you.
This could include a secondary game mechanic, question and answer sessions in which your ability to maintain a socratic dialog will shape their perceptiveness, their moral inclinations, and also their degree of respect for you. Your choice of answers, but also your speed in answering and even indicators of uncertainty (like changing selections a couple times before settling on one and confirming it) would shape your pupil’s perception of you as well as their understanding of the topic at hand.
The nature of these questions, and the pace and rigor of the discussion, change over the course of the game, as the pupil grows and eventually comes into power. At the end of a game, you are presented with the ruler you helped shape: is the new king a wise ruler, or a foolish one? Do they tend towards tyranny, toward democracy? Do the conquer, do they create peace, or are they incapable of holding on to their lands?
Repeat play would be rewarded with different historical events, different side characters, and, most importantly, a different pupil — a sickly but intellectual one, or a strapping but idiotic one, are obvious possibilities. But what about one who is both weak and dumb? Could such a person rule well, by learning how to delegate effectively and how to recognize whom to trust? What about a budding sociopath? Can you help create a productive outlet for violent urges?
Another secondary gameplay mechanic could cover how you spend your time when not tutoring your pupil. Do you stay abreast of court gossip, news of diplomacy and war, or do you research the past for clues to the future? Do you consult with other adults who influence your pupil — mother and father, other instructors, influential courtiers? How much do you observe your pupil, and how clandestinely?
From a technical standpoint, I suspect this sort of game would not be that hard to create. In terms of interface, a text interface would suffice for full interactivity, or you could pile on lots of graphics, provided you weren’t too dependent on word-for-word scripting.
You could also play into interface limitations as part of the gameplay mechanics — for example, you could learn about your pupil by watching their behavior from a distance, out of earshot — from a tower window, for example. You could see how interactions play out by observing body language and consequences, and thus eliminate the need to script those interactions. This would make it possible to generate whole relationships (over the course of decades, in-game) procedurally, and subtly different every time.
Those relationships would shape the future as much as the future king’s beliefs and skills. A king who makes enemies from his earliest days will be more likely to be assassinated; one who cannot stand up to those whose interests are contrary to his will be unable to command or negotiate with other nations.
The tricky part in all this would be in research and writing. It would be necessary to assemble a fairly extensive body of metadata about a fairly extensive catalog of cultural literacy — tagging books for political orientation, key themes, character archetypes, etc. This would not really be all that difficult provided you had a reasonably large staff of researchers — it’s really not that much qualitatively more difficult than the creation of the Scribblenauts dictionary.
You would also need to hire some consultants on psychology, etc., to build in some procedures for how your pupil will learn in response to input. This needn’t be too intensive — randomization can model real behavior about as well as most of the current social science models, anyway, so randomization can do a lot of the heavy listing in place of determinism. (Sort of like dice rolls when creating a character for roleplaying games.)
Of course, no one will ever make this game, because how could you possibly make money at it? It would be pretty delightful to see someone try to advertise it, for example. There isn’t even any combat! : )
Seriously, though, to sell something like this, you’d probably have to add a puzzle component, or some other such thing. Or else brand it as a dating sim and sell it in Japan…