EGU22-10987, updated on 28 Mar 2022
EGU General Assembly 2022
© Author(s) 2022. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Rehearsing Disaster: Can Video Games Help Young Adults Prepare for Earthquakes?

Elizabeth Safran1, Peter Drake2, Erik Nilsen3, Bryan Sebok4, Blythe Ballesteros5, Annabel Paris2, Lana Parezanin2,3, Ela Pencl2, Sarah Wood2, Jensen Kraus2, Sylvia Kunz3, and Max Udas2
Elizabeth Safran et al.
  • 1Environmental Studies Program, Lewis & Clark College, Portland, Oregon, United States of America
  • 2Psychology Department, Lewis & Clark College, Portland, Oregon United States of America
  • 3Mathematical Sciences Department, Lewis & Clark College, Portland, Oregon, United States of America
  • 4Rhetoric and Media Studies Department, Lewis & Clark College, Portland, Oregon, United States of America
  • 5Hanalani Schools, Mililani, Hawaii, United States of America

The Pacific Northwest of the United States is subject to devastating earthquakes along the Cascadia Subduction Zone (CSZ) but lacks a strong “earthquake culture.” Among the least prepared residents are 18-29-year-olds, who are left out of traditional messaging that targets either heads of households or small children. Video games resonate with the media consumption habits of this age group and put earthquake preparedness in an engaging problem-solving context. We conducted an experiment with 125 residents of Portland, Oregon in this age group to compare learning and motivation to prepare for earthquakes following up to 45 minutes of video game play vs. web searching. Our video game was custom-made by undergraduate programmers and informed by consultation with regional emergency managers, playtesting, and two focus group discussions. In the game, the player assumes the identity of three different characters over four levels, dealing with earthquake-related challenges at three different times: the period immediately surrounding the earthquake, one day later, and one week later. Each type of problem – avoiding injury, finding safe shelter, obtaining clean water, and managing human waste – has at least three solutions in the game. Participants in the web search condition were allowed to browse at will and were also offered three starter links to emergency management websites that included, but were not limited to, the information embedded in the game. Surveys were administered before and after the experiment task as well as three months later to assess learning as well as self-reported self-efficacy, intent to act, and  steps taken to prepare for various earthquake-related challenges. Participants in the game condition chose to perform the task significantly longer than those in the web search condition (31 vs. 19 minutes, p = 0.001) and found it significantly more enjoyable but also more challenging and frustrating (p = 0.01, 0.001, and 0.03, respectively). Game players perceived encountering a much higher percentage of new information than did web searchers (64% vs 45%, p = 0.001), with equal levels of trust in, and perceived reliability and applicability of, the information learned. Reported increases in self-efficacy around obtaining clean water and managing bodily waste were significantly higher (p = 0.05, and 0.001 respectively) among game players than web searchers immediately following the task. After three months, self-reported steps taken to prepare increased significantly for six out of eight specific actions among both game players and web searchers. The experiment suggests that video games can be more engaging than relevant web content and also effective at moving young adults toward earthquake preparedness.

How to cite: Safran, E., Drake, P., Nilsen, E., Sebok, B., Ballesteros, B., Paris, A., Parezanin, L., Pencl, E., Wood, S., Kraus, J., Kunz, S., and Udas, M.: Rehearsing Disaster: Can Video Games Help Young Adults Prepare for Earthquakes?, EGU General Assembly 2022, Vienna, Austria, 23–27 May 2022, EGU22-10987,, 2022.


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