I got an interesting email the other day from Amil Husain of the UN Millennium Campaign regarding a new series of educational games they wish to produce to run on Negroponte’s $100 laptop:
My agency at the United Nations is entering into a partnership with the NGO, One
Laptop Per Child who have produced a
really amazing $100 laptop for children 6-16… Our unit wishes to produce entertaining game modules for the laptop
on the Millennium Development Goals (8 Goals agreed to by every country in the
world in 2000 which if achieved would end extreme poverty by 2015). I
was looking for assistance finding game developers who have experience
translating difficult development issues into entertaining
As much as I support the vision of the Millennium Goals as political mobilizing tools, I have to admit I have a hard time imagining what kinds of "entertaining game modules" on the Millennium Goals could possibly be created. But here are some suggestions…
For those who don’t know, these are the Millennium Development Goals:
- Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
- Achieve universal primary education
- Promote gender equality and empower women
- Reduce child mortality
- Improve maternal health
- Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
- Ensure environmental sustainability
- Develop a global partnership for development
They are a short, easily understood list of "must do’s" if the world is to have any impact on poverty and suffering on the planet. Let’s translate these into some possible game modules.
- simDevelopment (A Resource Management Game) : The player takes the role of a UN country development coordinator shuffling a very limited set of human, material and natural resources in order to get food, shelter and jobs to people before they perish. You start off running Mexico and advance from there to Laos, then Kazakstan and finally Sudan.
- Lara Croft the Entrepreneur (Third Person Seller): You control Lara Croft, a village woman in a poor country attempting to provide for her family in a patriarchal society that doesn’t value her intelligence or strength. She uses her wits, tireless energy and enormous breasts to build a successful business, while also supporting her family.
- City of Humanitarian Aid Workers (MMORPG): In this online game, you choose a super-humanitarian power like "skilled negotiator with corrupt officials," "ability to make a little go a long way," and "strength of unquenchable optimism." Then you don the uniform of UNICEF, the Red Cross, Doctors without Borders or the Peace Corps (variations on jeans and logo’ed tee-shirts). Gamers face hordes of homeless refugees, hungry street urchins, and armed militias, armed with MREs, tents, and good intent.
- Leisure Suit Larry 2007 (First Person Playa): Basically the same game as the original except every time Larry has unprotected sex he contracts a horrible disease.
I don’t mean to disparage the effort. But honestly I have a hard time thinking seriously of what an entertaining educational game based around the MDGs might look like.
10 thoughts on “The Millennium Development Games”
Terrific post, thanks! Been bashing my brain in trying to come up with a game concept myself and I love the ones you propose. Perhaps a version of Madden Football where you throw bags of rice for touchdowns?
Frankly, I think it’s both arrogant and insulting to even insinuate that this isn’t possible. How about thinking about some positive ways to approach it instead of undermining the effort?
STDs, poverty, women’s rights, human rights… they are all serious issues that, approached properly, could make for interesting topics in educational games.
Not only do you work for the Social Science Research Council (www.ssrc.org), you chose to advertise this personal blog post to a large email list using your SSRC email address.
For an organization that claims to “…mobilizes researchers, policy makers, professionals, activists, and other experts from the private and public sectors to develop innovative approaches to issues of critical social importance…” (http://www.ssrc.org/inside/about/) you do them nothing but a disservice by mocking the same goals they wish to achieve. Is the SSRC in the business of mobilizing people by irritating them with poorly conceived blog posts?
If nothing else, it makes me think less of the SSRC and research done there.
Apologies if it appears I am making light of the causes encompassed in the MDGs. I’m not, as I stated above.
Nor am I disparaging the creation of games to educate about the MDGs.
I’m just stating I think a not unreasonable opinion that these goals will be difficult to translate into entertaining game modules. And I make some light-hearted suggestions of what those games might look like.
But I don’t think that we need to be so super serious about these things that we can’t step away and see the humor in them as well. Frankly I think we NEED to see the humor and entertainment value in these issues if we are going to engage young people.
SSRC is not in the business of insulting people or important causes like this one obviously. And I certainly don’t claim to speak on behalf of the organization.
Look at my previous posts on the subject of gaming and the UN, if you want a broader view of my feelings on the subject:
The Book of the OLPC
A few days back when I was trying to learn more about the Euphoria demo shown at the Game Developers Conference, I did a search that landed me on the OLPC News site (Link) for no good reason other than Ive been following OLPC development…
This is Amil who sent the email regarding the $100 laptop.
I agree the MDGs are difficult to translate, let alone into entertaining game modules. However from experience with working on the Goals we think the concept of ending extreme poverty by 2015 is a powerful message that actually does resonate with young people.
The ideas you’ve listed, while interesting would be difficult for the UN to distribute for 6-16 year olds (the target demographic for OLPC).
If you’re interested in a more detailed project document that outlines our needs on the programme I would be happy to send it by.
UN Millennium Campaign
Yeah, what was Amil thinking!?
“I was looking for assistance finding game developers who have experience translating difficult development issues into entertaining games.”
As Amil’s Boss..okay peer, I think the difficulty of the task is not in question. I agree with Mark that Rik was a bit harsh, but sometimes we need to step back and have a chuckle; especially when facing problems of such enormity. So maybe the issue isn’t with Rik’s game concepts, but smacking down Amil in the process. Luckily, Amil has incredibly thick skin (seriously, it’s a dermatological condition) and he’ll be fine.
Seriously, just like developing a small and durable laptop for every child in the world or achieving the 8 MDGs, this is a task that takes great ingenuity, determination, imagination, and of course…a wicked sense of humor.
Thanks for the response, Amil.
I’m happy to be the bad guy if we can have a frank discussion of what an entertaining and educational game focused on achieving the MDGs might look like.
I pointed in this post to the difficulty of creating any game on a serious subject that will entertain and engage youth. Beyond this is the challenge of creating a game that has appropriate content for a young person (6-16 as Amil says). And a game that will run on the very modest system specs of the $100 laptop.
Again, all the best to Amil and his team in leading up this effort.
For, against, ambivalent about OLPC – you can still win one by designing an educational game for it: http://www.olpcnews.com/content/games/win_olpc_xo_laptop_game.html
Millennium Campaign Games on OLPC XO
Did you know that the United Nations Millennium Campaign, the UN program based in the Millennium Development Goal to”free our fellow men, women and children from the abject and dehumanizing conditions of extreme poverty, to which more than …