A new study has found that 3D models of buildings used in violent computer games can help create fire safety awareness amongst people.
According to lead author Dr Shamus Smith, from Durham University's Computer Science department, virtual environments used in gaming technology makes players familiar with fire evacuation procedures, along with training them with safety routines.
Boffins at the university created a virtual reality model made of three floors with a several offices, conference rooms and a reception, and used commercial game Half-Life 2's source engine to programme it with features such as fire alarm triggers, fire exit signs, and spreading fires.
Participants testing the 3D replica of a real world building and three fire evacuation scenarios were told of a spreading fire and asked to find their way out.
The experts found that applying the games' underlying software code, which was more economical than using traditional virtual reality toolkits or writing the code from scratch, further helped in identifying problems with the layout of a building.
Smith said: "Although virtual environment toolkits are available, they usually only provide a subset of the tools needed to build complete virtual worlds. Although you can create fire and smoke for example, it is not very straightforward.
"In order to include these features using toolkits, it often requires additional programming skills and a substantial time investment on the part of the developer. By using readily available computer games, these features can be very easily simulated and are obviously vital in creating a virtual fire evacuation scenario".
Steve Wharton, Deputy Community Safety Manager at County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service, added: "Using virtual models such as this one is an excellent way to raise fire safety awareness and test the effectiveness of a building's design. Virtual models also provide an effective way to train fire-fighters in a realistic, yet safe, environment."
The study, partly funded by the Nuffield Foundation, was published in the Fire Safety Journal.