Tired of the same old story of Middle East conflict, world hunger, and regional unrest? Well maybe video games can help. New video games are being developed to model real world situations and help players better understand what it is like to be a decision maker in the face of intense regional and international pressure.
Real World Viral Video Games
Can video games encourage activism and promote education on real world issues? This post looks at 12 video game simulations that you should know about.
- Global Conflicts: Palestine
- Free Rice
- Food Force
- Darfur is Dying
Along with: Balance of Power, Hidden Agenda, Stop Disasters, What Would You Do, A Force More Powerful, and Al-Quraish.
Recommended reading: familiarity with the United Nation’s 8 Millennial Goals will help you to better understand this entry.
I have been wondering about the power of smart video games as an educational tool since I first heard about Peacemaker. Peacemaker was released last year to loud acclaim for its originality and willingness to cross taboos of politics, race, and war in the Middle East in a thoughtful and instructive manner.
In Peacemaker, the player chooses to take on the persona of the Israeli or Palestinian leader and is required to react to real life crises with realistic feedback from the populace. Bombings, refugee camps, home invasions, and politics are central features of the game.
The Peres Center for Peace announced this week that it will be distributing 100,000 copies of Peacemaker to help Israelis and Palestinians experience the role of the Other in Middle East decision making– just in time for the Annapolis Peace Summit.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will also receive copies of the game upon their return.
Can video games manifest peace in the Middle East? It’s worth a try. We certainly have nothing to lose.
Download a demo on Peacemaker’s website to learn more. Better yet, buy a copy ($20) and let me know what you think.
Global Conflicts: Palestine (2006)
In the same category as Peacemaker comes Global Conflicts: Palestine where the player is an embedded journalist in the Middle East, giving a first hand view of the conflict zone.
Palestine is also craftily designed to be serial ready: the designers can transfer the central journalist character to a new region or conflict for further play and education.
Download a demo on Palestine’s website or buy a copy for 20 Euro (approximately $30).
Free Rice (2007)
Free Rice holds a special place on this list since it is not quite a video game, but does act as an interactive online tool to help players better understand world hunger.
Since its October 2007 launch, Free Rice has raised funding for 1 billion grains of rice: enough to provide 150,000 meals to hungry people.
But what is it? Free Rice is a simple vocabulary game run by the United Nations World Food Program and sponsored by advertisers whereby a player matches words with definitions. Each correct response earns 20 grains of rice. There is no log in or sign up. Anyone can click on the website, start playing, and add their rice grains to the tally.
With the aid of Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, and other social networking sites, Free Rice has gone viral. This type of simple social innovation would never have been possible in any other age. Free Rice is living proof of the possibilities of social networking and entrepreneurship.
Given Free Rice’s exponential success, I recommend that the program developers add a donation button to the site allowing users to contribute by PayPal or credit card. To do so would advance the United Nation’s millennium goal of eliminating world hunger and create buy-in among users around the globe.
Play Free Rice on its website.
Food Force (2005)
Food Force is a conflict simulation game also sponsored by the United Nation World Food Program and designed along the same principles as Peacemaker and Global Conflicts: Palestine. Predating Peacemaker, it is considered the first humanitarian video game.
Players, acting as United Nations rescue workers, are sent to the fictional war torn island of Sheylan where they must complete 6 missions to feed millions of hungry people.
In July 2006 (when the latest figures were released) over 4 million people were reported to have played the game worldwide, numerically rivaling the commercial success of mainstream video games Halo and Grand Theft Auto. We can safely assume that the number is now much higher.
Food Force’s website should have a clear impact statement and updated figures on how many people are playing the game. The press release section ends in August 2006. I am sure significant articles have been written since than that are valuable to understanding the game’s impact.
Download Food Force for free on its website.
Darfur is Dying (2006)
Darfur is Dying is a humanitarian crisis simulation inspired by Food Force. Players have 7 days to survive in a Sudanese refugee camp, carrying water, harvesting food, building huts, and avoiding capture. The stronger the player becomes, the more her life is in danger.
Pretty grim–just like the reality of 2.5 million Darfurians survivors.
The game (if we can call it that) was created by Susana Ruiz, winner of the Darfur Digital Activist Contest, and is modeled after Sim City. It is sponsored by MTVu, the Reebok Human Rights Foundation, and the International Crisis Group.
Launched in May 2006, Darfur is Dying marked 700,000 hits in its first month, including 10,000 hits to the activism portion of its site, which encourages users to learn more about the situation. In its first year, the simulation was played 2.4 million times by 1.2 million users.
Download Darfur is Dying for free on its website.
Can Video Games Change the World? More Video Games Sourced from Real World Scenarios
Since their inception “serious games” have sought to change the world by putting players in the driver’s seat of current events and real world problems to help them understand the role of the decision maker.
Here are 7 more games you should know about, starting with Balance of Power, one of the first real life video games, to Al-Quraish, which seeks a better understanding of Arab civilization and the Middle East.
- Balance of Power: Geopolitics in the Nuclear Age (1985) is a Cold War era superpower versus superpower game in which the United States, the Soviet Union, and a myriad of other countries go head to head for global hegemonic power. Re-released in 1990 due to popular demand. (No direct link, free download available at multiple web gaming locations)
- Hidden Agenda (1988), a game in which the player is the newly elected president of Chimerica, a fictional newly democratic Central American country struggling to find its way while facing agricultural problems, international pressures, and popular uprisings. Along with Balance of Power, Hidden Agenda was of the earliest real world simulation games . (No direct link, free download available at multiple web gaming locations)
- Stop Disasters (2007) was designed by the United Nations’ International Strategy for Disaster Reduction branch. Players struggle with the effects of ecological disasters like earthquakes, floods, and wildfires. Free download
- What Would You Do (2006), created by UNICEF, was designed to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS among youth, particularly targeting those in southern Africa. Free download
- A Force More Powerful (2005), tagline: “The game of nonviolent strategy,” features 10 historically sourced scenarios. The player is an activist specializing in nonviolence who works to motivate the masses to fight against corruption and dictatorial regimes without bloodshed. Its accompanying website seeks to track the game players’ evolution in understanding the issues at hand and promote strategies for nonviolence in society. Buy it for $20
- Al Quraish (2006), intended for Arab audiences with newly released English translation, tells the story of 100 years of Arab history. Players choose command of one of four armies: the Bedouins, Arabs, Persians, or Romans to build a civilization. Its production company had previously released games that embodied “the Palestinian struggle from an Arab vantage point [by] creating Arab and Muslim characters who are fighting in self-defense.” Al Quaraish intends to give a more positive view of Muslim civilization than its gaming predecessors. Seemingly free download (text primarily in Arabic)
- Games for Change, links to various educational affiliates including the Serious Games Initiative and Games for Health
- The United Nations Gaming Blog
- MacArthur Foundation’s Digital Media and Learning Center, creating support and research opportunities for serious gaming
- The Peres Center for Peace’s Informational Technology Peace Projects
- Audio clip: “Video Game Designers Target World Peace” (NPR’s Morning Edition, June 2006)
- “Saving the World, One Video Game at a Time” (New York Times, July 2006- linked above)
- “Games Tackle Middle East Conflict” (Wired Magazine, Sept. 2006- linked above)
Articles and Audio:
Images sourced from the following, with thanks: Peacemaker logo, Palestinian and Israeli flags, Global Conflict: Palestine screenshot, Free Rice logo, donation button, Food Force screenshot, Darfur is Dying screenshot, Balance of Power screenshot, Hidden Agenda screenshot, Stop Disaster’s flood scenario screenshot, What Would You Do icons, A Force More Powerful screenshot, and Al-Quraish screenshot.
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