Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

June 3, 2009

Homeland Gaming

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Jessica Herrera-Flanigan on June 3, 2009

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.

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6 Comments »

Comment by John Bowen

June 3, 2009 @ 1:05 pm

The proof of the pudding is whether a simulation positively affects the behavior of responders during a real crisis. That’s very difficult to measure, but given the increasing ability of simulations to reflect the dynamic environment of disaster response (and prevention?), it’s reasonable to suppose that a simulation stands a better chance of challenging learners’ abilities and affecting their behavior than an old, text-based, “dip ’em in content” course.

A good simulation probably occupies the middle ground between the sterility of basic content presentation and the full-sensory experience of a real-world simulation, both in terms of its ability to affect behavior and its cost to produce.

And as web-based media improves, users in all contexts are increasingly demanding a richer experience. That’s a rising tide that’ll eventually lift all boats.

A couple more examples of the homeland security simulations with which I’m familiar: courses on prevention from the Institute for Preventive Strategies and courses on disaster response from US Army North.

Comment by William R. Cumming

June 3, 2009 @ 1:52 pm

Hey given the additiction of the under 30’s to TV and games this is the future for the youngest demographic that are or will be first responders at some point, whether trained or not.

Comment by Arnold Bogis

June 3, 2009 @ 3:03 pm

Full disclosure: I worked on the NEMSPI grant that produced “Zero Hour,” though my work was concentrated on the policy side of the project.

This was a great post that points to what will hopefully be a merger in the near future. All the “serious games” listed cover what are pretty much distinct response/public safety disciplines.

What would be fantastic is an online game, in the Second Life or World of Warcraft model, that is always running disaster drills where a full range of actors can participate. So not just EMS and fire, but also police, emergency managers, and even politicians.

While perhaps not as effective a real life drill (though I’ve witnessed more than one drill where the participants seemed to be simply going through the motions), after the development and (comparably) minimal running costs such a program would be much cheaper in the long run than running various full-scale exercises all over the country.

Comment by christopher tingus

June 3, 2009 @ 9:08 pm

At 58, still quite resilient and savvy as to DS lite and other hands-on display and games, while I encourage everyone to be involved in such even as seniors, I am fortunately from the proven “old school” requiring proven on-hands exercises as experience acknowledged as the best teacher!

We are failing economically, politically and with no civil defense, we are nothing more than an unprepared nation of self-serving leadership at the local, state and national level impressed with the power we have “entrusted” to these incestuous folks who choose to turn their cheek to a nation founded on Judeo-Christian principles and government by the people and for the people.

At least in my local communities, as a result of political corruption and legal extortion at least from my perspective as Mr. & Mrs. Joe Citizen, first responders, the dedicated police officer, the firefighter, the EMT trained to save Life are being laid off and hours cut extending response times and jeopardizing Life….

Christopher Tingus
64 Whidah drive
Harwich, MA 02645 USA
chris.tingus@gmail.com

Pingback by links for 2009-06-04 « In Case of Emergency

June 4, 2009 @ 6:31 am

[…] Homeland Gaming | Homeland Security Watch Neat blog post from what I consider to be the best Homeland Security blog out there on new video games that place players in the role of first responder. The first comment, by John Bowen, notes that while gaming is no substitute for experience, it can serve as an effective introduction. (tags: game firstresponder) […]

Comment by Craig W. Baldwin

June 4, 2009 @ 9:20 am

The proliferation of response oriented gaming development into the Homeland Security realm is appropriate and helpful—at least on one level.

Over the past several days the Homeland Security Watch blog has been highlighting the difficult work involving the conceptualization of resilience as a framework for Homeland Security strategic thinking. If for a moment, we consider planning for resilience as a complex strategic risk management problem addressing the spectrum of HS activity—prevention, preparedness, response, and recovery—then we should see strategy oriented HS games right? But there aren’t many.

I bring this up today because I would like to speak to a need for serious strategic gaming that promotes the concept of and hones a capability for resilience thinking. These games would be in addition to the “fun” action oriented tactical and procedural response games that are currently cropping up and were highlighted in this blog posting.

I realize that the strategy game genre is more difficult to develop and sell because 1) strategic “maneuvering” is not instinctive or intuitive—it is a thoughtful and deliberative process, 2) it may require gamers to develop domain knowledge to become proficient at the game and 3) the pace can seem plodding and lack direction. While the tactical action games appeal to large gamer populations which generate volume sales because they are aligned with and stimulate our primitive native and arguably better honed, tactical intelligence processes.

Because immersive strategic oriented games are important to the development of a resiliency mindset, and expensive to develop and commercially motivated development doesn’t seem likely this is an opportunity for DHS to take the lead in promoting development.

As an example, the DHS sponsored the development of a suite of First Responder Terrorism Prevention courses which are based on a common strategic risk management framework involving collaboration, information sharing, threat recognition, risk management and decision to intervene.

Offered through the Institute for Preventive Strategies, the courses employ both tactical and strategic gaming environments to promote individual interest, develop knowledge and skills, to build satisfaction and confidence in working through prevention-based strategic problem solving scenarios.

Full Disclosure: The Terrorism Prevention courses were developed by Teleologic Learning Company who I worked with during the course design, development and deployment phases.

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