Gamers get a very special warning

Emergency Alert

Earlier this year I worked as proofreader on a novel (Frantic Planet volume 2 by Stuart Millard) in which the protagonist’s descent into isolation begins when he finds he was the only person unaware of a major terrorist attack on his city, having missed all media coverage because he’s been too busy playing World of Warcraft.

Fictional that may have been, but there are surely many people who’ve found themselves detached from mainstream media and communications while engrossed in gaming. That’s certainly what officials in New York state believe.

They are now testing plans to extend the emergency warning system – which interrupts TV and radio broadcasts when there is a situation such as a natural disaster, or security incident – to online gaming. The plan would involve Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo displaying the warning messages to players using their online networks.

The system would be used for messages issued by the state’s Emergency Management Office, usually about local incidents. That’s separate to the national Emergency Alert System, which exists so that the President or a national representative could address the nation in an emergency on less than 10 minutes’ notice.

Information Week quotes an official as saying the plan makes sense given that many  young people spend much longer playing games than they do watching TV or listening to the radio.

Of course, it’s another disadvantage to those who’ve recently found themselves unable to play games online. Even critics of game piracy would have to admit that missing out on a tornado warning is quite a price to pay for modifying a console.

If the plan does take off, it’ll be interesting to see how the games companies and officials make sure the message gets through. Given that warnings will hopefully be so rare as to be unfamiliar, it could be quite a task to find a display format which gets the message across immediately without many gamers assuming they’ve stumbled across a particularly realistic game feature.

(Picture courtesy of Flickr user Perfectance.)

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