‘Serious’ Video Games Aid Training for Real-World Emergencies

COVENTRY, England ~ A bomb explodes in a busy shopping street, leaving injured shoppers requiring rapid assistance – thankfully it is only on a computer screen, but it has a deadly serious purpose.

This “virtual” crisis, used in training for emergency services workers, is part of a so-called “serious game,” an emerging niche in the video game industry.

The game Triage Training, developed in Coventry, central England, by a subsidiary of the Blitz Game group is aiming to be as realistic as possible.

Judging by several scenes, the game developers appear to have succeeded – in one, a man screams “Help me!” over the wail of emergency sirens amid broken glass and overturned garbage cans.

As chaos ensues, the player must quickly fulfill a series of tasks – check to ensure his respiratory tracts are not blocked, make sure he has a pulse, and various other in-game tests to provide a diagnosis – before moving swiftly along to treat the other injured victims as efficiently as possible.

“It works in real time, so if you don’t take care of these casualties quickly enough, they will die,” Mary Matthews, director of development at Blitz Truism, said. “It’s pretty scary.”

Matthews said the game was developed in six months with the help of the Serious Games Institute (SGI) at the University of Coventry, and has been tested by several potential real-world clients.

“That’s what is called a structured decision training game,” said David Wortley, director of SGI, which works to bring together entrepreneurs working on “serious game” projects and potential customers.

The British Midlands, where the SGI and Blitz Games are based, were long the home to the country’s industrial sector, but have since provided a base for Britain’s successful video game industry.

Britain was home to the developers of one of the most successful video games series ever, “Grand Theft Auto”, and leads Europe in developing video games, an industry which generates seven billion euros (US$11 billion) of annual turnover in Europe alone.

“Serious games are electronic games that are used for non-entertainment purposes,” Wortley said.

Another application has been developed for Stanford University’s medical school in the United States, allowing entire medical teams, from surgeons to nurses, to test the way they coordinate in virtual situations.

The SGI, meanwhile, is in the midst of developing an accurate three-dimensional virtual model of London to help in the training of emergency workers and firefighters.

They plan to test the British capital’s readiness in response to a dirty bomb explosion.

“On the plus side, it’s very much cheaper and cost-effective to do the training in the virtual world,” Wortley said, noting that shutting an entire city centre down in real life would cause chaos.

He added that it made it easier to carry out the training exercises several times, and to record and analyze varying results.

American defense planners first used “serious games” with “America’s Army” in 2002 – the game was initially intended to encourage young people to sign up to the armed services, and to identify the most talented potential entrants.

Since then, however, the US armed forces have begun using the game to help train their soldiers before sending them out into operations.

“Soldiers go into a virtual Middle Eastern city, they will learn how the city works, how to operate in different cultures, how to use translators, how to respond to the incidents and dangers in these cities before they have to go,” said Dick Davies, an executive producer at Ambient Performance, which specializes in creating virtual worlds.

The SGI is also working on far less dramatic games – one team is in the process of creating a virtual model of ancient Rome, to allow for virtual field trips by classrooms.

In addition, it helps companies which make use of virtual worlds, such as Second Life, to conduct business, and works on applications for the tourism industry.

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