On November 13 at 10 a.m., millions of Southern Californians will "stop, drop and roll" as part of the largest earthquake drill in U.S. history. Since the Big One will hit the Los Angeles area at some point, the US Geological Survey, California Earthquake Authority and National Science Foundation wants to prepare residents at home, in schools and in businesses across the area. As part of this "Great Southern California ShakeOut" (www.shakeout.org), which is a 3-minute long, 7.8 magnitude earthquake simulation, residents in California and around the globe can log onto a new massively multiplayer online (MMO) videogame called After Shock. (www.aftershock.net)
The Institute for the Future (IFTF) has collaborated with the US Geological Survey and the Art Center College of Design to create this MMO game. At its heart an alternate reality game, After Shock engages players around the meta theme of a major earthquake in their city and invites them to respond to this crisis using tools like video, blogs, wikis, twitter and more to collaborate with their community and find solutions and answers to challenges that help move them forward in the game. The game will runs for three weeks, during which time players will receive new information and challenges to propel them toward solutions. At its culmination, data will be collected and analyzed to help us understand how Southern California citizens might respond to this type of disaster and their degree of preparedness.
Jason Tester, the lead game designer at IFTF believes that a game setting like this gives people the fullest sense of what a real disaster feels like and most closely mirrors what life might be like in the real world after an actual quake. This simulation will help people think critically about the days after an earthquake, and how they can be a grassroots leader in their community. Playing the game is contingent on surviving the earthquake, but continuing survival depends on smart decisions.
The cool thing about this game is that you don't have to live in the earthquake capital of the world to play. Aside from the occasion hurricane, which always come with warnings, North Carolina residents don't need to worry about earthquakes. Having lived in San Francisco for four years before moving to Raleigh, earthquakes were always on my mind. Even though I never experienced one in San Francisco, you can't help but thinking about that while sitting in traffic on the Bay Bridge or San Mateo Bridge. I did experience a mild LA earthquake once while in town for a videogame event, but it was so mild the locals drank right through it. It did manage to get me out of bed, but it was very quick.
The fact that videogames, or serious games, like After Shock are now being applied to good use like helping prepare for national disasters shows how far game technology has come. Local serious games company Virtual Heroes has its own simulation, Zero Hour: Emergency Medic, which is being used by Homeland Security to train medics for disasters. One of the disasters is a San Francisco earthquake. But this game is training emergency first responders on how to deal with the aftermath. After Shock is recording how residents react to an earthquake. Together, these types of games will help when actual disasters strike.