Monday, February 26 2024

In April 2005 at a small book fair in Bologna Italy, the World Food Program
(WFP) launched a free video game called Food Force. Six months later the game had been
downloaded from the internet three million times, and within that same time
it was translated into Japanese and Chinese.

By May 2012, the game had been downloaded six million times and has
versions in English, French, German, Italian, Brazilian, Norwegian,
Portuguese, Suomi and Korean. Food Force was conceived as a
cheaper and effective advertising (and mass education) tool, targeting
particularly (though not exclusively) young children between the ages of 9
and 14. The thinking is that as future decision makers, it was important to
target children early and to help them understand the problem of world
hunger, because in the future their help would be needed to offer
solutions. Such a media tool offered as a game also aims to make
humanitarian work and concerns more attractive to people. The WFP official
who is the program manager for the game said at a conference that, since
the release of the video game Food Force, many young children had
expressed interest in working professionally in humanitarian agencies such
as the WFP. Other children have even done their own fundraising on behalf
of the agency, doing things like selling cookies in their schools (Justin
Roche, Report from the Serious Games Summit, Washington D.C 2005 ( www.gamasutra.com).

With the growing popularity of video games, advertisers thus discovered
another medium and market – the players. And so they began, first to embed
short ads (stills and motion) within video games and the players did not
seem to mind.

It was only natural that they would go further, producing entire video
games to market an idea. This tactic seem more relevant today when less
television is being watched and kids spend more time either playing video
games or surfing the Internet. The public is sought where they are – in
front of the video game monitor!

It is also a much cheaper means of advertising, because while 30 seconds
prime-time slot on popular television can cost about half a million
dollars, it takes much less (in the case of Food Force, $475,000)
to develop a video game. For the same amount of money, one can produce a
video game that is distributed an infinite number of times to an ever
widening audience base.

The Food Force initiative is an example of how deeply the video
game culture has penetrated society. They may still be a source of
entertainment, but evidence is showing that video games are fast becoming
the latest and more advanced means of communication.

The idea for Food Force came from Paola Biocca, a WFP worker who died in
the line of duty in Kosovo in 1999. An Italian game developer “Depend”
produced Food Force using Macromedia Director and donating part of
its time and expertise to the WFP on this project.

Here is how the World Food Program describes Food Force, a race
against time resolving a food crisis situation:


“Set on a fictitious island called Sheylan riven by drought and war,
Food Force invites children to complete six virtual missions that
reflect real-life obstacles faced by WFP in its emergency responses
both to the tsunami and other hunger crises around the world.


“With tens of thousands of Sheylan’s residents displaced and in urgent
need of food aid, players are required to pilot helicopters on
reconnaissance missions, airdrop high energy biscuits to internally
displaced person (IDP) camps, negotiate with armed rebels on a food
convoy run and use food aid to help rebuild villages.

There are six missions in the game:

-Air surveillance, which involves making a trip by helicopter to scout the
crisis zone in order to determine the number of people and localities that
need help;

-Energy Pac formulation, using a combination of food such as rice, beans,
oil, sugar and salt in specific quantities and on a budget-limit to prepare
a balanced individual ration;

-Air Drops, where the player “rides” on a WFP plane and is responsible for
making the actual food drops on the correct zones. The step involves both
speed and an accurate compensation for wind direction;

-Food acquisition, buying the required food on a fixed budget. It involves
juggling between distance of food source to destination, estimated time of
arrival and cost, both of the food and of transportation. One would also
have to decide when it is best to reject food donation because of
transportation cost and time;

-Ground transportation involving the movement of trucks, sometimes through
hostile territory; and finally ensuring the inhabitants of the imaginary
country can be self-sustaining through

-Future farming, helping local inhabitants to be self-sustaining through
initiatives such as offering food to adults as payment for development
work; feeding hungry children in school and helping to develop agriculture
for longer term sustenance.

At each stage of the operations (missions), the WFP rationale is clearly
spelt out to the player, who learns more about WFP in the course of the
game.

Points are given for good decisions, fast and accurate game play and for
saving as many lives as possible.

The introduction to the game challenges the player to, “

Remember, millions of people are now depending on you for help. This is
more than just a game. Good luck

!”

Many people are convinced of the teaching capabilities of “serious games”.
Suzanne Seggerman of the NGO Games for Change says that one of the
learning features of the game is its pervasiveness. Her NGO promotes games
“with a social conscience”.

The only other game downloaded more than Food Force, is the US
army recruiting (tool) game, America’s Army, which has had more
than forty million downloads by 2007. Today it has 12 million online
players who according to the US Army have “fired billons of rounds” in
ammunition. The latter is a “realistic” war game that puts the player
through recruitment, mission planning and execution. The challenge for the
WFP and others was to make a video game that had no violence and yet remain
entertaining.

There have been a lot of initiatives in this respect. The Woodrow Wilson
Center for International Scholars in Washington, D. C. has a project called
the Serious Games Initiative, whose aim is to find ways by which
governments and non-profit groups can address important issues through
video games. There are non-violent games promoting so-called non-violent
conflicts

These games cross the technical barrier, subtly entering the more
sophisticated communication field, attempting a sort of “social modeling”.
In the case of the political activism game (A Force More Powerful
), players have to make policy decisions based on how they perceive social
issues such as women’s rights, voting rights, free movement across borders,
and taxes. The ability to juggle well these decisions eventually determine
how many and which people join the “political campaign”.

The Food Force website extends the lesson on the World Food
Program by providing incentives for continued learning such as educational
aids and links for teachers, update on current crisis situations worldwide,
how to launch fund raising campaigns for the WFP, how to help raise
awareness on humanitarian situations, as well as opportunities for contact
with other people around the world sharing similar concerns. The launch and
subsequent growth of the Food Force video game earned the WFP
several key mentions in many Western news media (International Herald
Tribune, The New York Times; USATODAY; The Economist; Time; Financial
Times; The Independent; BBC News; The Wall Street Journal Europe).

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