Drinking and driving don't mix. Now there's a video game to prove it.
the Gauntlet

U of C students present drunk driving video game

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If you've ever turned on the television, chances are you've seen advertisements decrying drinking and driving--police officers being struck by drunk drivers, the road fogged over with empty pint glasses, and the horrible disfigurements of some child caused by an idiot who figured he'd be fine behind the wheel. This constant stream of advertisements with horrifying, depressing imagery has caused many people to habituate to the images, causing an ever-spiralling increase in disturbing and depressing tactics.

A group of U of C students and their professor have used a new form of media to hopefully dissuade prospective drunk drivers from trying their dangerous plan: video games. The Booze Cruise: A Driving Game with a Serious Drinking Problem recently debuted to media Oct. 2 and has created a serious buzz amongst the press.

"The reaction has been universally positive," said fine arts computer science professor Dr. Jim Parker.

Drinking and driving is a serious issue in Calgary; people seem to be grabbing their keys while under the influence at an alarming rate explained Parker.

"Usually, there are three-to-four thousand [driving under the influence] arrests annually," said Calgary Police's Alcohol Education Unit Constable Rob Haffner. "That's quite a lot, much more than the norm."

The driver plays through the game at a 0.25 blood alcohol content--swerving and careening around the level in an attempt to avoid his alcohol-induced illusions. But, there are those who actually view their driving as improved by alcohol--and would use this game as a way to train themselves.

"The same people who say that have probably played a driving game," said Parker. "We're going to let them see what it's like to drive at a 0.25 blood alcohol level. Then they get to see that, hey, they actually can't drive all that well at all."

While people may just think of drinking and driving as causing erratic road behaviour, it's much more than just that explained Haffner.

"People lose their inhibitions, their reaction times are slowed," he said. "It causes many more problems than what people usually think."

The game, though playable, has yet to be fully completed; without the necessary funding, Parker and his students have begun promoting the game in an effort to complete it.

"It'll be finished six months from the time we get the rest of the funding," said Parker. "There's a lot of stuff we'd like to add to it, and there's a whole second level we haven't done. The hope was that providing a playable experience someone would come to the table with funding."

The public may see video games like Halo 3 and Grand Theft Auto and think they're only mindless entertainment for pimpled young men. This new type of media is one that can help educate people about the effects of drinking and driving in a safe environment.

"People react much more viscerally to new forms of media like video games," Haffner said. "Video games reach out to a new form of audience that may not be as affected by usual forms of education. It also helps people see, through their own eyes, what actually happens when they get behind the wheel."

The Booze Cruise's intent is to be used as an educational tool once it's completed--which requires some more work on the part of the group.

"We have to streamline the code, do some final user testing, and add a few final effects," said Interdisciplinary Graduate Program PhD candidate Lori Shyba. "But we hope that with a little funding and a little more blood, sweat, and tears, we'll get it into police interpretive centres and schools."

The negative effects of driving while under the influence are not well-known to everyone but those who have actually experienced driving drunk. The game intends to use the visceral experience of video games to show the effects of boozy driving.

"Nobody wants to spend extra money on car insurance, let alone lose their life or kill anybody when they're driving," said Shyba. "Let players have their thrills in the game, let them know what the consequences are, let them rehearse the reality of what will happen in real life. Entertain players but also educate them about the hazards of drinking and driving."

While credit has been heaped upon Parker, he remained humble about the experience, point out that the students did just as much work as he did.

"I think this is one of the things people underestimate about students," said Parker. "They are capable of doing very high-quality work when they're very well-motivated. In this instance, because it was fun, it was an interesting project and had practical considerations, they actually got their hands dirty and rolled up their sleeves and did pro- gramming, sound, and art design."