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Thursday, June 23, 2005

Video Game-Based Economic Development Courses and Social Impact Assessment

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"Serious games" are everywhere it seems. From nursing to managing a baseball team, from law enforcement to economic development, video game-based simulations and role-playing games are increasingly easy to download and learn.

Video game-based simulation can be extremely effective in courses that involve analyzing and evaluating the social impact of decision-making, particularly when learning objectives involve equipping the students to be able to practice interdisciplinary thinking skills, problem analysis, and cause-and-effect relationships. For example, courses in economic development, globalization and its local impacts, or community development could incorporate the following “serious games.” They could be implemented as individual player games, or as multiplayer games – even massively multiplayer games (MMORGs).

A good example is a global economic development course offered online. Because people who take the class usually have an interest in applying the knowledge and concepts learned, they tend to be highly motivated to read articles, participate in discussion boards, and collaborate on group projects. However, there is always something missing. The individuals who have spent time in the field, or who have volunteered or worked for organizations that provide humanitarian aid or technical assistance are generally eager to bring their experience to the learning space and to apply it to new problems, or to look at their own struggles through new lenses.

One new game, free and available for both Mac and Windows platforms, allows students to simulate trying to solve the problem of world hunger. Granted, this is a tall order, especially in a global sense. So, to make it doable, the simulation focuses on specific scenarios, and it allows the players to move materials, transportation, and vehicles in order to resolve a crisis situation.

World Hunger: Force Food

One of the more interesting games of this nature is World Hunger: Force Food. Developed in conjunction with the United Nations World Food Programme, it encourages students to look at the problem from a complex systems point of view.

United Nations Food Programme simulation game Food Force

This is a video game-base simulation which educates individuals about world hunger. Developed in relation with the United Nations World Food programme, it is designed to educate individuals about about world hunger and to make people aware of what the United Nations is doing to combat it.

Premise (from the website): A major crisis has developed in the Indian Ocean, on the island of Sheylan. WFP is sending in a new team to step up the World Food Programme’s presence there and help feed millions of hungry people.

The game is very realistic, and makes the player very aware of what is known in educational development circles as “food insecurity.” Food insecurity relates to the amount of food available to individuals in a community, and it measures it not only in calories, but also in necessary nutrients. Access to clean water and sanitation is also factored in. Players manage World Food Programme teams which deliver food aid using not only airplanes but a fleet of ships and thousands of trucks.

This game involves a fairly large download, 277 MB, the game is fairly robust and customizable. The avatars are engaging, and the narrative is realistic. One starts to think immediately of recent crises in Darfur, Zimbabwe, the tsunami-affected regions.

This game was developed by Deepend, a computer design studio based in Rome, and game developers Playerthree in London. http://http//

The Peter Packet Challenge

The next interesting game, The Peter Packet Challenge, is one that is intended for younger players, but which is informative enough for adults.

Peter Packet video game-based simulation to solve the world's hunger problems

“The Peter Packet Challenge” is a video game-based simulation that concerns itself with fighting global poverty, while incorporating fund-raising for humanitarian aid.

The protagonist of the game, Peter Packet, is a superhero whose role is to deliver life-saving messages via the Internet that will help young people help fight poverty.

The primary objective is to improve conditions in order to save children’s lives. Some of the methods involving improving the water supply, providing access to health care and medicine, improving schools and education. The locales range from Haiti to Zimbabwe, and the conditions are eye-opening, particularly for young learners.

Incorporating this game in an economic development for lesser developed nations is very effective in helping make students aware of the scope of the problems, the impact on children’s lives, and possible logistical and financial challenges faced when attempting to solve problems.


This game was developed for the U.S. Department of Justice in order to help Federal workers become familiar with the types of ethical dilemmas they might face, and to develop a personal strategy for dealing with it.

The game, Quandaries, gives the player the opportunity to simulate being a federal worker with a federal career. The player can choose a role among the fifteen possible choices, and can ascend through five levels of responsibility. To begin, the player chooses on of several entry-level jobs. In order to progress to the next level, the player must demonstrate enough knowledge about federal ethics to be “promoted.”

Drug Wars

"Drug Wars – Underworld” gives the player a chance to role-play in a persona that is extremely damaging to society.It gives individuals the chance to see how and why a drug dealer perceives the world in a certain way, and how his/her decisions are made. From Geek Phase Corporation, “Drug Dealer” is a shareware game where the individual plays the role of drug dealer. The goal is to make as much money as possible in the time allowed through buying and selling. Along the way the players will face challenges from loan sharks, gangs, mafia enforcers and the cops.

social impact serious games - Drug Wars

The objective is to make as much money as possible in the time allowed.Starting at the street dealer level, the player must buy and sell a variety of products, fend off gangs, mafia enforcers and cops. Drug Wars is based on a classic 1980's dope wars game, but incorporates many new twists and allows one to develop a new strategy. Character creation lets the player tailor his or her character to fit one’s playing style.

There are a number of challenges for the players. Gangs, mafia enforcers and cops try to derail the player, but there are ways around that, including running, offering bribes, or fighting back (a non-violent combat style is enabled by default). Banking options allow the player to manage his or her money throughout the game.

Complete in-game statistics cover every detail of the game, and let the player track progress over time. The shareware edition is free, and it includes the standard length game, and can be played forever.

URL: Drug Wars

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