Can a video game be educational and still be good? The history of educational games is spotty, at best; arguably SimCity comes closest, and there the academic aspects are debatable. Part of the problem is that most games, like other forms of drama, require some kind of conflict or tension, and it's challenging to make drama organic to math quizzes. Situations where the drama is a natural part of the lesson stand a better chance of succeeding as a game.
Because games are active, not passive, forms of entertainment, they have a very real potential for education. You don't just watch people making choices, you make them yourself. That's why we keep returning to the topic of "serious games" like A Force More Powerful, Pax Warrior, and Industrial Waste.
When one hears that the United Nations has produced a video game about food aid, skepticism is a reasonable response. But the reviews of Food Force, the new game produced by the UN World Food Program, have been surprisingly good. Food Force -- which is designed for 8-13 year olds -- puts players in the role of the rookie on a food aid team working in the fictional country of Sheylan. The game has various stages with different kinds of tasks, from action elements like running food convoys over dangerous roads to deliver aid, to simulations like finding, buying and shipping food from around the world. The final mission is a SimCity-like game where food aid is used to help rebuild the nation's economy.
The game is written in Director, and is available for Mac and Windows. As one reviewer noted, this is precisely the game which should be made open source, as the game designers aren't trying to sell it and open source code would make translations into other languages happen faster. The game is big, weighing in at 227MB for the Windows version, 198MB for the Mac, but the site does encourage downloaders to burn copies for others. The download site is occasionally overloaded, so if you want to check the game out, you may need patience.
This game makes me wonder what more complex, less aimed-at-kids, simulation games set in the developing world might look like. What would SimMegacity be like? Or SimLeapfrogNations? Or even SimWorldChanging?
"As one reviewer noted, this is precisely the game which should be made open source, as the game designers aren't trying to sell it and open source code would make translations into other languages happen faster."
What about World Changing itself? :) Wouldn't it be appropriate to put it under a Creative Commons license?
I found this review of the game to be very enlightening.