updated 4/14/2005 11:44:33 PM ET 2005-04-15T03:44:33

Instead of battling aliens in space or dodging spells cast by evil wizards, a new video game launched Thursday features aid workers negotiating with armed rebels and a plane dropping food to starving people.

The U.N.'s Rome-based World Food Program designed the game to raise awareness among the young about world hunger.

The agency presented the educational video game, called "Food Force," at an international children's book fair in the northern Italian town of Bologna.

"Communicating with children today means using the latest technology," said Neil Gallagher, the agency's director of communications. "Children in the developed world don't know what it's like to go to bed threatened by starvation."

The PC-based game, which the agency said was unsuitable for children under 8, takes place on the fictitious island of Sheylan. After an initial briefing on hunger crisis and work in the field, players are required to accomplish six different missions, ranging from piloting a reconnaissance helicopter to count hungry people, to dropping food aid from a cargo plane.

The full screen, three-dimension imagery video game is available for free downloading from http://www.food-force.com. Players can also submit their scores to an international database and compare them with other players around the world.

The game is only available in English, but versions in other languages, including French, are planned, the agency said.

Florian Westphal, a spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross, said he had heard about the game and was planning to look at it even though he doesn't usually play such games.

"We would certainly welcome any imaginary idea that teaches children" about humanitarian issues, he said.

"If that can be done through a game, why not?" Westphal said. "The idea struck me as interesting."

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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