Disaster Detector was produced in 2015 as an aid for teaching US middle school students about disaster prediction and management. Created by the Smithsonian Institute Science Education Centre and funded by the US Department of Education. Disaster Detector can be played online or downloaded.
In the game there are 5 cities that need your help to predict disasters (earthquakes, tornadoes, volcanoes and hurricanes) by using a range of tools.
Visuals: The game features a simplified simcity-eske map, with tools on one side. The animations of the disasters are nicely done, especially the hurricane which is my favourite. Everything is pretty simple and easy to identify.
Music: I thought that the music was a little annoying (mostly just the part with the saxophone, the piano section is quite nice), but there are options to turn down or remove all audio and sound effects. When disasters are occurring there are sound effects for that which I think add to the game well by providing an increasing sense of urgency.
Gameplay: The tutorial is easy to understand, you are helped along by a young American called Windy. She narrates you through the game using audio and text.
You can use the tools (anemometer, thermometer, barometer or seismometer) to try and predict what type of event will be coming. Each of the five towns have specific events that might occur, like just hurricanes, or all four disasters. Some events are easier to predict using the tools (hurricanes) and others are harder to predict (earthquakes). There is also the doppler rain radar and tip-offs from local residents that can give you extra information. There are some hurricanes which just pass by, similar to what might occur in real life.
To prepare for disasters you need to spend money on installations such as storm shelters and reinforced rooves. You can choose to spend money on cheaper installations, or save it and invest in preparation for larger events. There is a negative effect on the happiness of the population when you spend money on these preparations, so the best results are gained from waiting and seeing what is required.
The population prefer to spend as little money as possible on preparations, and get cranky at you if you over-invest. I wonder if this has been shown to be the case? I personally like seeing money invested in those kind of things.After each disaster you will need to repair or rebuild structures: they are not just a one time fix. You receive money at set periods in the game, so you need to choose your purchases wisely.
At the end of each scenario you are given a score based on your preparedness, population happiness and spending. This feature means that you can replay the game to try and get a better score.
Impact: I thought Disaster Detector was a nice short educational game. There are only 5 cities to choose from, and these can be completed quite quickly. I could only play it through once before becoming bored, but someone within the target age range of 12-14 could stay a lot longer.
Elements of the game that I liked were the idea of using historic measurements to predict intensity of future disasters, and the good level of description about each tool. There was not a large amount of information available on the topics, or links to places where children could find more information.
You can see that it is designed for a western context, where governments have the resources to be able to put in effective measurements against disasters. I hope that this game can educate young people, as well as make them appreciate funding of disaster prevention investment. It would have been nice to see some references to how climate change might change weather patterns and influence disasters, but that has been covered in other games, and we should not expect too much from a governmentally produced game.
For disaster games, I preferred to play Stop Disasters rather than Disaster Detector, but Stop Disasters is designed for an older audience, so it makes sense that I would enjoy it more.
Cost: 5/5 (free!)
Contribution to science: 0/5
I discovered Disaster Detector through the Games for Change website. Games for Change is a non-profit corporation which convenes, highlights, incubates and channels investment into social impact games that aid humanitarian and education efforts.
You can play Disaster Detector here
All images are the property of Disaster Detector.