DFID’s attempt at an educational arcade game


The Roving Bandit sent me this link for DFID’s Race Against Global Poverty internet game. It is one of several mini games that DFID is using to educate children about their work on poverty.

The game invites players to drive around various environments, from dusty battlegrounds to lush tropical forests, delivering humanitarian aid out of the back of your large white 4×4 (with the Union Jack triumphantly displayed on the side).


You can drop off things like water, tents, medical supplies, but only get points for giving people what they need. How do you know what they need? Well, the game sort of tells you:

“This village is thirsty, cold and sick” = “Give us water, blankets, and medicine.” Not exactly brain surgery, is it?

As far as development-oriented games go (sadly, this isn’t the first) I suppose this is a decent attempt, but I’m worried about what sort of lessons this is trying to convey: That aid is easy? That it’s driven by basic needs? When I worked for the government of Malawi, I remember that dealing with foreign aid meant lots of sitting in long meetings, not driving around looking for giant crosses to drop food on.

If you were to design a development/aid oriented video game, what would it be  (aside from a wrestling/fighting game that featured a royal rumble cage match between Jeffrey Sachs, Bill Easterly, and Paul Collier)?

4 thoughts on “DFID’s attempt at an educational arcade game

  1. Michael Keizer

    January 9, 2010 at 2:56am

    Well, for one, I would add Dambisa Moyo to the rumble.

    But more seriously: it would really depend what you would like to bring across. My favourite saying these days seems to be, ‘horses for courses’: I don’t think any one game would be able to bring across the goals, range of methods, issues, problems, solutions, etcetera of development and/or aid; except, of course, that greatest game of all: real work as a aid or development grunt, feet on the ground.

  2. Ranil Dissanayake

    January 9, 2010 at 9:26am

    I’d trust the Sim guys to make a decent attempt, though.

    Can you imagine, you spend 20 years trying to build up a capitalist private sector and then, bam! a plague of locusts and Idi Amin Dada strike in the same year.

  3. Amani

    January 10, 2010 at 7:41am

    Have you seen Tropico? It’s a sim, and while it clearly wasn’t meant as an educational game, there are lots of development themes built into it.

    Description from Amazon.com:

    Tropico gives you the reigns of a banana republic, letting you shape the island nation in practically any way you like. Whether you’ve always wanted to create an utopian paradise or a ruthless dictatorship, Tropico will go anywhere your imagination leads. The game offers an unprecedented amount of political detail, as the island’s various factions always scrutinize your actions. Focus on a strong military and you risk angering the intellectuals. Build a robust industrial economy and you’ll please the Americans while risking alienating the communists and environmentalists. Every decision comes with consequences, and if you anger a faction or the population too much they will attempt to oust you from the island.

  4. Dr. Alden Kurtz

    January 11, 2010 at 6:21pm

    HRI (http://handrelief.blogspot.com) is currently working at a development-oriented game. it’s more like a tamagotchi really- you basically get a key-chain sized refugee and need to keep it alive with FI (Food Items) NFI (Non-food Items) and other development jargon. Hugs give you points and you can send it in after one year for a chance to have a signed purse just like Angelina’s.

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