Disaster video games as participatory tools

Anthony Viennaminovich Gampell is studying a PhD in Geography.

"I generally describe my research pathway as somewhat unintentional and coincidental. I focused upon the sciences throughout my high school education – biology, chemistry and physics, alongside maths and English. While I demonstrated high achievement in geography at high school, I dropped the subject due to timetable restrictions. On coming to the University of Auckland, I intended to study medicine though realised that I was
not passionate enough to continue upon this trajectory. I initially took GEOG 102 to fill a gap in my timetable, and soon found that through a series of coincidental events I was in a position to double major in Biological Sciences and Geography. While I had a plan for what classes to enrol in, as predicted, this was not to be the case. Timetable clashes with my core biology papers meant that GEOG 325 was my only option to complete my BSc by the end of the year.

"The GEOG 325 poster assignment was my initial exploration into what would later become my research area. With encouragement from my now supervisor JC Gaillard, I decided that I was passionate about the topic and then ultimately it became the pathway that I am now pursuing.

"My research reflects upon how disaster video games, both serious and mainstream, may foster participation in learning about disaster and disaster risk reduction (DRR). My honours research connected disaster video games to DRR and developed a disaster video game typology, while demonstrating the ability of these games to raise awareness of disaster-related concepts. My current research builds upon my preliminary research, utilising a range of participatory tools with various participants including students and teachers. These tools help demonstrate how disaster video games can foster participation in learning, connecting to constructivist learning theory and utilising these findings for the development of participatory Minecraft mapping activities for the purpose of learning about disaster and DRR.

"One day is never the same as another. Some days I will be playing through different disaster video games to engage with the material, both on a personal level or through an academic lens. Other days I will be teaching and testing different participatory activities with students in order to inform how I can use these methods in the real world with research participants. On other occasions, I am talking to different people from around the world on the future of video games along with other aspects of play including the use of LEGO. The speed of which the video game industry is moving definitely keeps things interesting!

I think the most enjoyable aspect is that this is a relatively untapped
area especially in terms of disaster research. I have had to give critical
consideration toward how I have approached my research, trying to move beyond the current position of research and introduce new approaches to conduct video game research. 

Anthony Viennaminovich Gampell

"With my focus upon the participatory nature of video games and participatory methods, it is always great to see those participants who are not familiar with video games, or even those who are sceptical of video games, to be both actively engaged and having fun. The hands-on, experimental and self-directed approach often means participants come away with a new appreciation of video games and their potential learning benefits.

"I think my biggest moment of surprise came when I realised what I knew and believed about video games having the potential for learning was demonstrated during one of my video game trials.  The stand out example has to be when I was conducting video game trials within Te Papa museum. Several adults, over a broad age range, decided to take part and play the disaster video game on display. Only a few adults managed to get full scores on the final section of the video game and responses seemed to indicate
the need to rationalise their actions and ground this in reality. A young boy came to play and got full marks on the last section. I asked him how did he know what to do, to which he responded, “I play a bridge building game where I build the bridge with triangles, that’s the strongest bridge, so I saw the triangles here and put it on the house. That’s how I know.” In this one moment, the boy demonstrated what I was trying to express through my research; it was this surprise that reinforced my beliefs and motivates my research.

I think a topic like video games will always have a number of challenges that one requires to overcome. There are always challenges to find reviewers when attempting to publish, though I think the number one challenge is the stigma surrounding video games as being violent and having no benefit, while the comments often come from those who have not played the particular video game in question. This was one of the key drivers for me going into this area of research. Having played video games from an early age and reading the literature, I found my experiences were not aligned with the academic literature. Seemingly coming from people unfamiliar with video games rather than the gamers themselves.
I continually push back upon this content-focused approach and instead refer to alternative aspects of video games including but not limited to: the game mechanics, player skills and motivations alongside social interactions and provide different examples, in-depth explainations, and/or simply allowing people to actually play a video game. Often, once attention is drawn to these various aspects, current understandings are challenged and may lead to a broader understanding.

"I think new questions emerge every day, especially in this relatively new field of research. Questions that emerge may be surrounding research methodologies, the discourses which inform understandings and that may lead to the discussions of uncomfortable social topics, or how would the current situation translates to tomorrow, next week, next month and beyond.

I hope my research can lead to people questioning their understandings of video games and the way research is conducted. This may include consideration toward how mainstream video games may provide better opportunities for learning over serious video games. Or alternatively, a shift from the current approaches in video game research to better utilise participatory methodologies which align with the participatory foundations of video games. I feel if my research can enable at least one person to reflect upon their own research process and make a change then my research has had the impact I would like. My PhD research is only the tip of the iceberg.

"My main collaboration in terms of the research has come from being a part of the National Resilience Challenge. My involvement in the P-Tech in CitSci project saw collaboration with people from AUT in Public health, alongside local stakeholders including Civil Defence, East Coast Labs, teachers and students from Maraekakaho School in the Hawke’s Bay. Such collaboration was beneficial to attain different perspectives as well as solutions to different
challenges or helping ground the researchers in the local context. While such collaboration helped further my own research it was also of benefit to the collaborators, helping build networks and opportunities for future collaborations.

"The people that are a part of the Faculty of Science, including the
students, academics, technical and administrative staff, are very supportive. Without the support of these people I do not think the ideas we wish to explore and the impacts that we want to make would be possible.

"My advice is to stand up for you and your research! I vividly recall attending my first conference presenting a poster with my initial findings from my honours dissertation. In one session, I asked a question about whether video games could help engage people in learning about and preparing for wildfires. The speaker dismissed the idea and the crowd apparently found the question humorous,  judging by the laughter. However, a few individuals approached me afterwards and expressed that my work was very important, but I was just ahead of my time. I returned to this conference two years later, once again presenting the same poster on video games and DRR. However, this time the attendees were in high praise of the benefits of this work before the realisation sunk in that I was that video game guy from the previous conference! Needless to say, a few apologies followed.

"Being a Graduate Teaching Assistant for the School of Environment has been an enjoyable part of my journey. Having been in the same situation as the students and having experienced lecturers or tutors who were disengaged and disinterested did not bring any level of enjoyment to the class and was difficult to be motivated. I believe building a relationship with the students and being on the frontlines with them when they have assignments, or showing understanding of challenges that they may be facing outside of the University, builds trust and motivation for student attendance and drive to do well. Often when bumping into past students, they will mention how they appreciated my dedication to the role and how it often forms their most memorable and enjoyable experiences of their time at the University."


Anthony's supervisor is Dr JC Gaillard Associate Professor, and Co-supervisor Dr Meg Parsons Senior lecturer, from the School of Environment.