The United Nations recently put out a press release on the one year anniversary of the launch of their first video game entitled “Food Force.” I reviewed “Food Force” in June 2005, noting that it was actually pretty fun to play and reasonably educational.
In the free-for-download game, you are assigned to a team of humanitarian aid workers with the Food and Agricultural Organization, tasked with responding to a famine in a fictitious country. You are given various missions to scout out the dispersed population, put together the relief supplies, and deliver them to various drop zones via plane and truck.
The UN reported that “Food Force” has “4 million players” worldwide, is considered “cool” among 8-14 year old gamers in 200 countries, and is now available in English, Japanese, Italian, and Polish versions. Hungarian, Chinese, French, Greek, Hindi and Arabic are all due to follow soon.
WFP’s Director of Communications Neil Gallagher said:
Pleased as we are with the success of Food Force, we are not resting on our laurels.. In the lightening fast environment of the gaming industry, Food Force will soon age, so we are already working on a new video game for adults.
“Food Force” is a single player game, with a very scripted beginning and end point. What would be more compelling and more difficult would be to build a multi-player online game that simulated the kind of cooperative activity it takes for the UN to fulfill its humanitarian and peace mandates.
One could imagine a virtual world where you could take the role of food delivery truck driver, nurse, construction worker or engineer. There might be various crises that occur in the virtual world that you would be dispatched with a team of other virtual players to deal with. It might be a flash flood, a famine, or a civil war.
The challenge would be making it both entertaining and realistic. If it is too realistic, players will quickly find themselves frustrated by the lack of resources and support to be able to manage crises. Watching people starve as the funding for your food deliveries runs out is not very entertaining. And it seems problematic to try to make constructing a refugee camp or innoculating people for small pox “fun.”
That said, massive multiplayer environments might be the perfect fora to introduce people to the power of collective action and sharing resources. In the face of real-life humanitarian emergencies happening every day, it might be cathartic to boot up your computer and enter a world and learn that you can make a difference. Perhaps that might even spur some people to engage in the real work of humanitarian aid and development.