Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Daily Archives: 03/01/2010

Food Force 2

Many readers will know of Food Force, the very successful World Food Programme educational game released in 2005. While Food Force made humanitarian feeding programs looking a bit like James Bond missions (albeit with food convoys, aerial surveillance, and nutritional balances rather than an Aston Martin), it certainly did a remarkable job of publicizing the agency, with some 4 million players in its first year.

There is now a Food Force 2 available for download. This appears to be the work of a group of independent, volunteer developers, with only limited assistance from WFP. In this story-line, rather than playing the role of UN personnel, the player assumes the role of an aspiring village leader (son of the current village leader, no less, in a perhaps unintended commentary on neopatrimonialim, resource distribution, and community leadership).  It has been designed for use in schools, and has been configured to run on the XO laptop (intended for use by children in the developing world), as well as on full-fledged Windows and Mac OS.

Game play is very Simcity-like, with the player making decisions about investment in housing, farms, a school, “hospital” (clinic), etc., as well as what crops will be grown, and sales and purchase decisions in the marketplace. While this succeeds in highlighting many key issues of resource scarcity and allocation, it tends to do so (like many Sim-type games) in a way that implies a much greater degree of centralized planning than one would ever find in a real rural village. Of course, it could be argued that this makes game play more interesting by making outcomes more obviously a consequence of player decisions. Moreover, this is just intended for children, right? However, without appropriate framing it does rather send some confusing and unrealistic signals about the way rural political economies operate. While more of a challenge, I’m not convinced that a game couldn’t be designed in which the player can only nudge individual actors in the right direction, rather than deciding all key production and investment decisions themselves.

Still, that critique shouldn’t be allowed to distract from recognizing the hard work and dedication of the volunteer design team. Food Force 2 also highlights the very real potential of collaborative, open-source serious game development for education and advocacy purposes.

%d bloggers like this: