Disaster preparedness is about as sexy as flossing regularly, but a new alternate reality game could put the fun into contemplating the destruction of Los Angeles.
Aftershock, run by the Institute for the Future and Art Center College of Design, is based on a 300-page U.S. Geological Survey scenario report that details the extensive damage that Southern California could experience in the aftermath of a 7.8-magnitude quake on the San Andreas Fault. The game began on Thursday and will run for three weeks, prompting users to complete real-world missions – and submit content based on them to the gaming community.
“Disaster preparedness was at the point where the messaging had hit the limit. You can give people this really elegantly designed flyer, and they stick it in a drawer and it hits them in the head during the earthquake,” said Jason Tester, the lead game designer at the IFTF. “[The game] says, ‘You are experiencing a real earthquake.’ We’re trying to make it feel visceral.”
The new game is part of the largest earthquake preparedness drill ever attempted, the USGS-run Great Southern Californian Shakeout. At 10 a.m. local time Thursday, millions of Californians crawled under their desks in response to an imaginary major earthquake.
Aftershock will begin where the earthquake drill ends. It’s not so much about what to do during an earthquake, but how to survive the fallout of the disaster. By providing an intellectual exercise to imagine how bad an earthquake could be, Tester and his co-gamemasters hope that they’ll be able to not just increase awareness, but change people’s behavior.
Tester said that the game is an attempt to bring the reality of the so-called Big One home to a younger demographic by borrowing the tropes of gaming. It is one of an increasing number of serious games attempting to deal with real-world problems through collaborative online action. Last year’s World Without Oil had players imagine the world in the midst of an acute crude shortage and the IFTF’s Superstruct asks players to craft solutions to a half-dozen near-future scenarios.
“Think of the scenario as DOS,” said Jason Tester, the lead game designer at the IFTF. “[Aftershock] is like the GUI to the scenario.”