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Jun 20
2013

Video Games & Emergency Preparedness

Posted by: Luis Tapia in DRJ Blogs

Luis Tapia

By Luis Tapia
Originally posted on Disaster Junkie's Blog

After playing through a post-apocalyptic themed video game last night, I thought about the recent success of several disaster related genres. Perhaps the most notable would be the zombie craze, which arguably is enjoying its golden age in television and film.

Last year, the CDC acknowledged the zombie phenomenon by releasing zombie preparedness advice via the Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response. Division Director Dr. Ali Khan noted "If you are generally well equipped to deal with a zombie apocalypse you will be prepared for a hurricane, pandemic, earthquake, or terrorist attack."

The ongoing popularity of computer, console, and social media based games such as FarmVille and Candy Crush demonstrate that users of all ages continue to enjoy video games. New console systems from Sony and Microsoft launch this fall, bringing a vast new library of video games available to play. Undoubtedly, we will see a number of games include the popular disaster theme.

This leads us to ask the question - Can disaster themed video games provide an effective avenue to spread the emergency preparedness message?

Novel alternatives in communicating the traditional preparedness message are underutilized. Prominent contributions come from the American College of Emergency Physicians, who created an online game called "Disaster Hero". The Illinois Emergency Management Agency developed a video game aimed for teaching middle school aged students about preparedness. By communicating to a target audience in a form familiar and entertaining, the greater the potential is for moving the preparedness needle. As the CDC zombie case study demonstrates, what may initially be an attempt at humor could generate much needed buzz - and potentially a change in preparedness behavior.

With the recent increase in video game users and popularity of disaster related media, there may be some opportunities to explore.

I know what some of you are thinking. I would argue though that video games are not as mindless as many may think.

A brief search on Google Scholar brought up several heavily cited articles on video games as alternative tools. A theme among the findings suggests that some video games can have strong ties to therapy, education, and learning. The manner in which information is presented in some puzzle or strategy games can stretch one's mind in ways other media (like movies) cannot.

Perhaps one day we will see a disaster game with strong tie-ins to the American Red Cross. Or a game where your survival success will be based on your preparedness decisions made early on. There certainly are opportunities to explore, especially with professionally developed games with preparedness tie-ins, rather than games developed specifically for preparedness sake. Perhaps this avenue can help overcome the fatigue and saturation obstacles that our contemporary emergency preparedness campaign endures.

Until then, take a look at some of the recent disaster video games I've enjoyed. They are not only great games, but solid examples of what an emergency preparedness message might look like when it is introduced into a professionally developed video game.

Plauge Inc. 

Plauge Inc is a pandemic simulation game where you develop the most effective infectious disease possible. You select the infectious traits, symptoms, and how it behaves once it is released into the population. To win the game, you must not only infect the world’s population, but eliminate every last human being on Earth.

The game is surprisingly addictive but may frustrate players early on. The counter balance to your influenza onslaught is the global effort to cure the pandemic. Difficulty settings include how often people wash their hands and how many hours public health officials work in search for a cure. New plague types unlock as you progress the game along, which offer their own unique gameplay characteristics. For example, bacteria will act noticeably differently than the virus or fungus levels and will require a different strategy to succeed.

Stop Disasters!

Stop Disasters is an online flash game where you prepare a community for an inevitable disaster. Scenarios include wildfire, tsunami, hurricane, flood and earthquake. Players begin with a budget to purchase structural and non-structural mitigation activities. The budget must be spent wisely to save as many people from the disaster. Evacuation training, warning systems, building upgrades, and coastal improvements each contribute towards community resilience.

Higher difficulty settings expand the size of your community and will stretch your budget as you make progressively difficult choices in what to protect. Overall the game is quite fun to play. I found myself replying each scenario in attempt to raise my letter grade score.

Additional entries can be found on the Disaster Junkie's Blog