This week I played two levels in the Red Cross Game and solved a number of virtual public health and safety crises involving first an earthquake in Argentina and then conflict and dislocation in war-torn Zimbabwe. In order to tackle my next task, a flood in Mexico, it seemed as if I would need to pay $19.95 to purchase the full version of the game, which offers a free online training module and about a half-hour of teaser play as part of what is both an exercise in consciousness-raising and a fund-raising maneuver.
In comparison with the humanitarian game Food Force from the U.N. World Food Program, I found the Red Cross missions not much better and in some ways worse than the UN version of these scenarios. For example, driving and directions were not as tricky as they should be when navigating new territory, a factor of game play that could sometimes be tricky in Food Force, and there weren't enough obstacles of language, tribe, bureaucracy, or culture to make for a very engaging play experience as a Red Cross worker. And what about maintaining prisons in Zimbabwe? Shouldn't that be tricky territory to negotiate ethically?
Given the sales pitch for a computer game, it is ironic that the relationship between the Red Cross and game developers has sometimes been notably strained. In one case, the head of the Canadian Red Cross sent a legalistic cease-and-desist letter to game developers who used the Red Cross logo in first-person shooter games.