While people have been modding games for over a decade, researchers at Durham University have taken it one step further. By modifying the Source Engine, the one behind Valve's award-winning Half-Life 2, they have created a sophisticated fire evacuation simulator.
Conducting fire drills in buildings under realistic fire conditions can be difficult. Typical fire drills don't contain variables such as corridors filled with smoke, fires in unexpected places or blocked fire exits that require on-the-spot decisions from evacuees. Performing fire drills in virtual buildings is one alternative. Read More...
The team’s study aimed to explore how modified computer game technology can assist in the rapid prototyping of virtual environments, to create fire drill evacuation scenarios. The team chose to use Source instead of custom-made 3D modeling software because modding an existing engine was more cost and time effective. It also offers better special effects without the need to learn or develop additional programming skills.
"We were interested in using game technology over a customized application and the Source Engine, from Half-Life, is very versatile." said Dr Shamus Smith, who helped spearhead the project. "We used the simulation to see how people behaved in an actual fire situation and to train people in 'good practice' in a fire."
While non-gamers treated the simulation as a more serious exercise, the participants who were gamers did some rather surprising things. "If a door was on fire, they [gamers] would try and run through it, rather than look for a different exit," said Dr Smith.
Gaming technology has also been adapted in other studies to simulate lab accidents, teach people about cooking safety and to help individuals overcome arachnophobia.