I am writing from Los Angeles and E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo) 2009, the industry-only trade show for folks involved in the global interactive entertainment industry (i.e. video and computer games). Greeting attendees at the front of the L.A. Convention Center is a 1959 Cadillac Miller-Meteor Ambulance, which 80s film buffs may know better by its license plate – Ecto-1. As I walk up, I notice that surrounding the vehicle — who you gonna call? – are the Ghostbusters, a rowdy HAZ-MAT crew of first responders with proton packs and ecto-googles.
Once inside, one of the first games I came across on the trade show floor was Real Heroes: Firefighters, a game to be released in July, which allows you to take on the role of a rookie firefighter working out of a busy metropolitan station and tacking emergencies. I tried the game and it was fun — though I was not too successful. The game is one of several on or coming into the market that allows a player to take on the role of a first responder – whether EMT, firefighter, or public health official. (I won’t even try to describe all the games available to help strategize, combat, and address some forms of terrorism or war).
While the games described above show the appeal of merging homeland security into our cultural entertainment preferences, games and homeland security are connected in several other critical ways. We are seeing video games and simulations being used more and more to help on a practical (not just an entertainment) level prepare our homeland security first responders and preventers.
For example, the Washington Post ran a story in late March entitled “Sober Games for First Responders” that detailed the efforts of the National Emergency Medical Services Preparedness Initiative at George Washington University to develop a video game that will allow emergency workers to hone their skills on the virtual scene of large-scale crises. The “Disaster Gaming” Initiative received a $4.8 million grant for the game, called Zero Hour: America’s Medic.
The Entertainment Technology Center (ETC) at Carnegie Mellon, in collaboration with the Fire Department of New York, has also developed a responder game tool – Hazmat: Hotzone, a simulation that uses videogame technology to train first responders about how to respond to hazardous materials emergencies. The game was designed to be distributed for free to fire departments across the country.
A team at the Sandia National Laboratories developed a game called Ground Truth, which was designed to help trainee firemen and policemen understand threats and measure their real-time responses. The game, for example, has as a scenario, a toxic chemical spill that requires players to organize evacuations, get hazmat and EMT teams in place, and keep law and order.
It would be interesting to see an in-depth analysis of how video games are being and can be used for the numerous simulation, training, and exercises in homeland space, as well as an assessment of stakeholder opinions on them.
On a related but different matter— the Department of Homeland Security also plays an important enforcement role that has a huge impact on those attending this week’s E3 trade show. The industry’s innovation and competiveness has been hit over the years with the trade in counterfeit and pirated goods – both online and in the bricks and mortar world. Much of those efforts fall to Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers. A number of their efforts are coordinated through the National Intellectual Property Rights Center, staffed with agents and analysts from ICE, CBP, and the FBI.
The Entertainment Software Association estimates that the U.S. video game industry was nearly a 12 billion dollar industry in 2008, a figure that has quadrupled since 1996. The industry, especially given many of the announcements this week at E3 of new and emerging technologies such as Microsoft’s Project Natal, should certainly continue to grow. That growth, however, will depend on how seriously and with what resources DHS and other federal agencies protect intellectual property.