When in April 2005 the World Food Programme (WFP) released "Food Force", the first United Nations video game, it did not expect to have a smash hit on its hands. The food aid agency was as surprised as the international games market that a non-violent educational video game about global hunger, created by a non-profit organization, would be seen as "cool" among kids, and within a mere six weeks of its release register over 1 million players. The breakout phenomenon has been such that not only the commercial gaming industry but also the mainstream media have taken note.
Targeting children aged 8 to 13, the video game is available for Windows as well as Macintosh platforms, and offers six different missions (see page 79) alongside Food Force's crack team of emergency aid workers. In a race against the clock, players are faced with a number of realistic challenges to quickly feed thousands of people. The video game format, rather than traditional educational game technology, has the attraction of full screen video and 3D imagery. Aspects of the food aid operations include piloting helicopters on reconnaissance missions, negotiating with armed rebels on a convoy run, and using food to help rebuild villages.
The video game is available as a free Internet download from a special interactive Food Force website (www.food-force.com), with a number of dedicated areas where players can also post their high scores, learn more about hunger crises and WFP programmes and find out how to get involved. The "How to Help" section provides ideas on fund-raising and community involvement, as well as information on how celebrities help to fight hunger. The website also features a special section for educators and teachers interested in integrating lessons about hunger into their curricula. It offers teaching materials for primary, intermediate and secondary levels, as well as hunger resources and links to other educational UN Websites for teachers, such as the UN Cyberschoolbus (www.un.org/Pubs/CyberSchoolBus). For teaching materials, WFP has teamed up with the "Feeding Minds, Fighting Hunger" website to provide downloadable teachers' lesson packs in nine languages (www.feedingminds.org).
In the virtual world of Food Force, the player is briefed on a hunger crisis on the fictitious island country of Sheylan, where the WFP team appears as a set of animated characters that help guide the player through the game. Before each mission begins, an educational video segment about the reality of the WFP work in the field is presented, allowing the players to learn and understand how the Agency responds to actual food emergencies, including the origin of food donations, the nutritional breakdown and method of delivery. …