Usage of Multi User Online Computer Games as a Simulation Platform in the Disaster and Emergency Management Arena
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
Emergency response agencies that need to care for large crowds in real-life events, report a constant lack in human volunteers in large numbers for training purposes. Moreover, existing computerized training aides either totally omit affected crowds in their scenarios, or represent them as computer generated models. A potential solution that can provide real human input in large numbers for training purposes can be found in the form of Massive Multi-user Online Role-Playing computer Games (MMORPGs) that attract millions of users on a daily basis. In order to evaluate the use of MMORPGs as an emergency simulation platform I had to examine the in-game behaviour of participants, usability issues, data collection methods, and data reliability. I did so by constructing a multi-user computer game that included food shortage and a pandemic spread scenarios. Data collected included every possible item that could be technically logged, both qualitative (questionnaires, user’s self tagging of events) and quantitative (all in-game actions and their coordinates, players and virtual environment in-game status). The abundance of data enabled easy triangulation and verification. The main findings were: participants attention span was about 90 minutes, they demonstrated only a narrow range of behaviours necessary for their in-game survival, and this behaviour followed loosely real life behaviour patterns. Usability wise participants ignored interface components and in-game tasks that interfered with their game flow. Data reliability: unlike other methods that rely solely on participants accounts, the game had the ability to compare between actions to questionnaire answers, and was able to detect inconsistencies between people’s actions within the game and their accounts of their actions. The ability to create spatial maps of event types enabled a fast way to visually analyze data. The research concludes that MMORPGs can be used as an emergency simulation platform if: 1) its duration fits the participants’ attention span (as a result aspects of human behaviour that happen over a prolonged period of time will not be demonstrated); 2) the demographic composition of participants fits that of the population examined by the simulation; 3) participants should be properly reimbursed for their time; 4) it is known that participants’ in-game behaviour might be negatively influenced by lack of real-life experience of similar events; 5) in-game rules and mechanisms are set to filter out game abuse; 6) preliminary sessions are run to determine ideal attention span and data skewing factor.