Monday, December 19, 2005

Welcome to the Desert of the Unreal

Yesterday's story in the Los Angeles Times, "Disaster Is Not a Game -- or Is It?" on how "'fun' video simulations are helping to train emergency workers in catastrophic response" features the work of epidemiologist Colleen Monahan of the University of Illinois at Chicago, a developer for Public Health Games. According to Gamasutra, "The first scenario in the project simulates a bioterrorism response focused on training thousands of people to dispense mass amounts of drugs and vaccines in the wake of an anthrax attack."

The article also discusses Virtual Iraq, a simulation based on the game Full Spectrum Warrior that is designed to treat the intense post-traumatic stress disorder being experienced by veterans returning from the Second Gulf War. The company that produces Virtual Iraq, Virtually Better, also makes "Virtual Vietnam," as well as "Virtual Airplane," "Virtual Heights," and "Virtual Audience" for phobic patients with more pedestrian disorders.

Hazmat: Hotzone, developed by graduate students at Carnegie Mellon, includes possible terrorist attacks faced by the New York Fire Department and is also listed in this LA Times inventory of serious games.

In "Welcome to the Desert of the Real," written in the days between "traumatic event" and "symbolic impact," Slavoj Žižek asserts that the September 11th bombings could finally force Americans to experience some of the violence and privation of the rest of the world, from which the U.S. has been shielded by an artificial but ideologically comforting socio-economic, political, and cultural virtual reality environment.

Ironically, terrorist attacks within our national borders have actually encouraged our government to generate ever more virtual worlds in response.

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