Can Serious Games Change the World?

Can Serious Online Games save the world?

Peacemaker, Food Force, and A Force More Powerful

By Javaughn Fernanders

I. Serious Games.

On February 2003, a subgroup of game developers formerly convened the first Serious Game Summit held during the largely popular Game Developers Conference.  Serious Games, games that are not used for entertainment, are usually instructional and used in various industries. Language software, flight simulators , and  management RPG’s are examples of serious games. Recently, games that address humanitarian issues have become increasingly popular.  Three current serious humanitarian games are Peacemaker, a Palestinian/Israeli role playing game, Food Force, produced by the United Nations and A Force More Powerful a project of the United Nation World Food Programme. Additionally, the subset of serious games that deal with politics, and social issues Their popularity and the rise of developers dedicated to providing the public with nonviolent, strategic serious games,resulted in The first Games For Change Conference held in 2004.

Peacemaker was developed by Carnegie Mellon graduate students who utilized  Palestinian youth groups as advisors.   In Peacemaker, the player is either The Israeli Prime Minister, or the Palestinean Prime Minister.

Launched in 2005, Food Force engages children age 8-13 in solving world hunger issues.  In the game introduction the player is introduced to the World Food Programme Team:  In Food Force, players select a mission to distribute food, or create balanced food packs.  The player is an Emergency Aid worker and gains points in variety of exercises. Players can choose from six  scenarios:   Air Survelliance, Energy Pacs, Air Drops, Locate and Dispatch, Food Run and Future Farming. By 2006 the game was downloaded 3 million times with a million players in the first six weeks. (Kim, 2006)

The player is given 10 scenarios in which to role play and make decisions without the use of force or firepower.  As the regional dictator Mayor  Gavrilovic reaks havic over the town of Grbac, Slovopaknia (fictional).  The player must lead a grassroots, student movement to oust the leader using strategies like, fundraising, hunger strikes and protests.

II. Serious Games Strategies and Advantages

Three basic strategies for learning and action inform our  Serious Games and may encourage further action (like peacebuilding, advocating support for global hunger programs, or understanding conflict in a context of nonviolence).  They are the use of simulation, an environment of unfavorable consequences based on player choices, the “soft fail” and post-game appeals.

Using simulation games stimulate curiosity and experimentation in a virtual environment, while developing strategic and critical thinking skills.  Specifically, simulations offer a training that is more cost effective and practical.  For  example, one does not need join the Peace Corp in order to understand the strategic skill needed to feed a million people during an air drop—they can play Food Force.

Providing difficult choices alongside unfavorable consequences (death, imprisonment in AFMP) creates a high learning curve for players.  Players can see understand the difficult choices their real time counterparts have to make as well as develop the skills to make critical choices under pressure themselves.  In Food Force, players find themselves rethinking the grid and vowing to make better choices in order to feed more people from the air and get more points.  This strategy is directly related to the “soft fail.”

Josh Johns of BreakAway technologies reports that “Games can create a training environment that is totally immersive,” “The technology available in games through simulation can be incredibly realistic. You can play any role or multiple roles. What’s most important, you can fail safely and learn from it. It’s a very affordable, very experiential way to learn.” (Laff 2007)  This “soft fail” strategy allows players time to rethink former decisions without the real time consequences.

Post-game appeals appear at the end of play in Food Force and AFMP.  These appeals suggest ways to support the goals of the game like world peace, an end to global hunger, or peace in the middle east.  In Food Force, players can link to the World Food Programme web site, engage in an urgent action, post their scores (re-playability).  IN this way the U.N. office operates as a salesman at the “closing.” Acting on the players immediate understanding of the difficulty in “playing,” the organizations asks the player to participate in real time.

In the United Kingdom, research about game play in classrooms concluded that :

  • A teacher, or facilitator enhances learning during game play.
  • Using sections of the game to supplements instructional units enhances learning.
  • Simulations offer scenarios which encourage post-game discussion
  • Game play encourages motivation, learning new skills, and collaboration.
  • Students receive immediate feedback from online game play (Kirremuir, 2003)

For the all players Serious simulations offer new thinking about “traditional”  ways of doing. Other studies suggest that actions in online games are often mimicked which is what authors of games like Peacemaker, Food-Force and AFMP aim for.

“Combining simulation, strategy, and the ability to play alone (if partners are not available) electronic gaming builds on basic instincts for competition, interaction, interaction, and imagination that are instinctive in so many people. By combining these elements with instructive materials, or wrapping important content in a gaming package, the hope is to utilize the strength of gaming to elevate learning and especially strategic learning among players”

(Sawyer, 2005)


Sawyer, Ben.  Enhancing Simulations, Models and Their Impact Using Interactive Game Design and Development Practices and Technology. The Foresight and Governance Project:WoodrowWilsonCenter

Kirriemuir, John. The Relavance of video games and gaming consoles to the Higher and Further Education Learning Experience.  Journal of ISC, 3/12/03 v.3.1 Kim, Ryan. Games Get Serious San Francsico Chronicle.  May 22, 2006


Schollmeyer, JoshGames Get Serious Bullitien of Atomic Scientist     (July/August 2006 p. 34-39

Laff, Michael. Serious Gaming: The Traininers New Best Friend The American Society for Training and Development Jan. 2007, 52-57.


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