Video games can save people

Video games can save people

Turning Doom into something useful

No one would have guessed that violent computer games could actually hold the key to saving lives rather than snuffing them out, until a team from Durham University postulated otherwise.

The latest academic research has found that games such as Half Life and Doom could actually be used to train people in fire safety, evacuation procedures and even save lives. Missing a link? Let us explain.

By using the engines from games such as these, which involve looking at a scenario from a first-person perspective, the team at the university was able to adapt the environment into a 3D model of a real world building.

In just three weeks a single developer was able to programme three fire evacuation procedures complete with smoke and fire which the Durham experts say is significantly quicker and more cost effective than beginning from scratch.

The scientists found three main advantages of using this technology. That it can be used to identify problems with the layout of the building, that it can help familiarise people with evacuation procedures and that it can teach good fire safety.

Many dangerous situations occur in a fire because people don't know the bits of the building they don't use on a daily basis, like the fire exits and stairwells, well enough and therefore panic due to the unfamiliarity with procedure.

As opposed to starting from scratch this method takes a huge wedge of time off building a virtual reality model. The games are also tested extensively before use in both usability and performance also meaning less work for the team. According to the boffins the code within these games also enables easy programming of features such as wind, smoke, fire and water.

Lead author Dr Shamus Smith from Durham University's Computer Science department said, "Although virtual environment toolkits are available, they usually only provide a subset of the tools needed to build complete virtual worlds."

Dr Smith explains further that in order to include features such as fire and water the programmer usually requires additional programming skills and a substantial time investment on the part of the developer. "By using readily available computer games, these features can be very easily simulated and are obviously vital in creating a virtual fire evacuation scenario".

Steve Wharton, of Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service agreed that, "Using virtual models such as this one is an excellent way to raise fire safety awareness and test the effectiveness of a building's design. Virtual models also provide an effective way to train fire-fighters in a realistic, yet safe, environment."

Further to the theoretic usefulness of this simulation, the team tested it on real people, showing them the difference between the usual simulation and the computer game-based one, those tested agreed unamimously that the latter was the most helpful and realistic, and that they really enjoyed shooting the fire demons in the ladies' loo on level six. (c) 2010 Incisive Media

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