Five Games and Apps to Change the World

Whether it is family Trivia Pursuit at Christmas, Words with Friends on the android phone, or Second Life on a P.C., everyone likes to play games. They are challenging, fun, and constitute a healthy source of friendly competition. However, as Jane McGonigal, an American game designer, argued in her TED talk, they can also make a better world.

Today, Development Roast* highlights five games and applications that are more than mere entertainment, but serve to educate and deeply involve its players in global food, agriculture, and sustainability issues:

1. Being a game-changer. To govern is to choose between competing priorities and interests and making policy decisions in an increasingly globalized world is difficult. Players of Game Change Rio, that aims to educate its users to such complexities and raise awareness of future global challenges, choose from 150 different policy cards to try and balance the economy with the environment, human health, education, and other important issues. The game was developed as a joint effort between Code Sustainable, Biovision, and The Millennium Institute. It holds a complex model of over 5,000 indicators that is based on the latest research and real-life data that has so far been available only to experts and policy makers. Although it was set up as an engagement tool in preparation for the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development, it is still available to play for free on Facebook in seven languages.

2. Encouraging food fights. Information about healthy food options is available for anyone who cares to look. However, a new app by a social conscious developer Field Fresh Apps, makes such information not only accessible, but also fun.  Aimed mainly at children, the game, My Food Fight, gives big pay offs for choosing the right foods. Throughout, it stimulates interest by allowing its users to learn about nutrition and earn badges such as Broccoli King, Collard Green Queen, and Fruit Fanatic. The creators have also ensured that, in order to earn the highest rewards, the players learn nutritional discipline along the way rather than just aim for good end results.

3. Gaming that gives back. To combine education with an instant impact, the UN World Food Program (WFP) has developed a game called Free Rice. The game is simple: answer questions related to hunger and with each correct response 10 grains of rice are donated to the WFP. Because the game teaches players about different issues, it comes with a humorous caution: “Warning! This game may make you smarter. It may improve your speaking, writing, thinking, grades, [and] job performance.” To date over 96 billion grains of rice have been donated.

This is not WFP’s first game attempt. In 2005 they released the wildly successful Food Force: The First Humanitarian Video Game. Set on a drought and war riven fictitious island called Sheylan, it teaches children about the logistical challenges of delivering food aid in a major humanitarian crisis. To date it has been downloaded six million times and has an estimated network of 10 million players worldwide.

4. Farming in Africa. Ever wondered what it would be like to depend on a small farm for subsistence? One game allows its players to experience such a life virtually. 3rd World Farmer is a simpler game developed by a team from the University of Copenhagen. In it, the player has to manage an African farm. Starting with only $50, the point is not only to survive season by season, but to thrive, initially as a family of four. Players are confronted with the difficult choices that poverty, inclement weather, and conflict can cause. 3rd World Farmer is now available in English, Spanish, Italian, German, Danish, Czech, and French.

5. Watch this space for a game to reduce deforestation in Bolivia. Many economic mechanisms have been put forward to try to better manage natural resources. The UN Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (UN-REDD), for example, aims to put a financial value on the carbon stored in rainforests and incentivise developing countries to maintain them. REDD+ goes even further. According to UN-REDD, it moves “beyond deforestation and forest degradation, and includes the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests, and enhancement of forest carbon stocks.”

In collaboration with the London School of Economics, our very own Institute of Advanced Development Studies (INESAD) is in the process of developing a REDD+ based game entitled SimPachamamaPachamama is often translated to mean Mother Earth and refers to a goddess revered by the indigenous people of the Andes. Similarly to the Rio+ 20 game, SimPachamama is being modeled using the latest available research and evidence on the trade-offs between individual actors, public policy, and the environment in Bolivia and other Amazonian countries.

The game will be a didactic tool for designing effective, efficient, and equitable policies to deliver REDD in Bolivia. The game player will be in charge of running a small village at the heart of Bolivia’s Amazon and will need to make policy decisions to balance the needs of the rainforest, the wellbeing of the communities and individuals within it, and interactions with the external world. For example, the policy choice of cutting down the rainforest for economic or wellbeing gains from agriculture, timber, or biofuel production, will weigh against known ecosystem services that the rainforests provide to human beings. These include carbon storage, food, materials for indigenous arts and crafts, and cultural and social significance. The game is set to launch in December 2012, so watch this space for more news.

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Do you know of other games and applications that encourage their audiences to think about global and local food and agriculture challenges? Leave a reply below.

Ioulia Fenton leads the food and agriculture research stream at the Center for Economic and Environmental Modeling and Analysis (CEEMA) at INESAD.

*This post was originally written for and will appear on the website of the Washington D.C.-based Worldwatch Institute‘s Nourishing the Planet project.


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