The New School

The New School
Gas Station Hero

Robert Janelle | 26 May 2009 12:31
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Supervising a gas station can be a tough gig.

Problems started one evening when a tanker refilling the reservoirs started spilling gasoline all over the place. This wouldn't have been a huge issue were it not for a nearby outdoor concert venue shooting off fireworks that were being carried well away from the stadium by high winds. That's how the unthinkable happened.

A stray pyrotechnic managed to land right in front of the pumps, starting a small fire. Fortunately, I had prepared for this scenario. I dispatched a few workers to deal with the fire and summoned outside help to clean up the large gas spill before it ignited.

All this said, I've never worked at a gas station. I played through this entire experience virtually in Response Ready, an emergency preparedness simulator from Distil Interactive.

The browser game is a demo created to illustrate the potential of using videogames for job training. While it's not a new concept, videogames have traditionally been used to prepare trainees for jobs that involve a lot of button pushing and hand-eye coordination, like cockpit simulators for pilots. But recent years have seen a huge increase in the number of companies across industries using videogames to provide job training, even when it comes to soft skills like retail sales and compliance training.

The Hilton Garden Inn chain of hotels recently rolled out a Sony PSP game called Ultimate Team Play to get employees to practice scenarios in a virtual hotel before applying them in a real one. Meanwhile, electronics companies like Canon and Cisco Systems provide construction and repair simulations where employees practice their skills by assembling pixelated parts.

In fact, a 2008 study by the Entertainment Software Association found that 70 percent of major companies in the United States are using videogames in some form for training purposes, though that figure includes even simplistic games like online quizzes. Companies responding to the ESA study indicated that among other advantages, they found cost savings from using videogames, better retention of information and an easier way to monitor progress.

The space has been growing rapidly, with many companies popping up to leverage the serious games movement including New York-based Games2Train, who have produced training titles for banks and consulting firms, and North Carolina's Virtual Heroes, who created the training game for the Hilton Garden Inn.

To learn more I paid a visit to the Distil Interactive office in Ottawa, Ontario.

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"You probably brute-forced your way through it," says Distil Product Manager Treena Grevatt when I mention that I thought Response Ready seemed a little over the top, with fireworks igniting gas spills. She explains that the real point of the game is to be proactive and prevent problems from arising in the first place.

"If you watch the wind, you don't get the fireworks coming in," Grevatt adds.

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