By Lars Olsen

Disaster is coming and it’s up to you to prepare your town’s defenses! ‘Stop Disasters!’ is a disaster simulation game made by the United Nations and the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR) in collaboration with game developer Playerthree. Released in 2007, this flash game provides a fun platform for learning about natural disasters and preventative measures that can save lives.

Similar to the gameplay of ‘SimCity’, players in ‘Stop Disasters!’ must develop and upgrade tiles to effect change. However, instead of creating an economically-thriving city, players are responsible for protecting their community from one of 5 natural disasters: a tsunami in a coastal village of southeast Asia, a hurricane on a Caribbean island, a wildfire in the arid plains of central Australia, an earthquake in the eastern Mediterranean, and a flood in a European valley. In each of these scenarios, players must develop sufficient housing, educate the community about evacuation plans, and protect vital infrastructure. Oh, and did I mention that players have a limited amount of money to accomplish all these tasks and only 10-20 minutes before disaster strikes? Success will come from proper strategy and planning.

Educational games frequently oversaturate the player with facts, but ‘Stop Disasters!’ does a good job of teaching through the gameplay rather than text. It is also fairly easy to pick up and play without a tutorial, but challenging enough to be fun. This is a single-player game, but students could collaborate in a classroom setting to share strategies and ideas.

Effective in-game strategies also translate into effective methods for preventing real-world disasters. The game does a good job of highlighting the importance of simple safety measures like education, tying down heavy objects, and planting trees. The mission of the game states, “If we teach them from an early age about the risks posed by natural hazards, children will have a better chance to save their lives during disasters.” This game makes a serious topic more approachable and understandable to children who might be turned off by conventional teaching methods.

Video games are such effective educational tools in part because they are so good at keeping young people engaged with their immersion in a new environment. ‘Stop Disasters!’ does a good job of immersing the player with its sounds and graphics which are bright, colorful, and inviting. Each scenario feels unique and exciting. I also appreciate that the game is available in 5 languages as this helps it reach a wider audience.

Unfortunately, the game is now a bit outdated and could use more attention to detail. The controls are simple yet frustratingly slow and awkward, there are miscellaneous bugs, and the natural disaster at the end lacks in calamity. One major drawback to the game is its lack of feedback for your choices. The brief overview of results omits specific details for your game so it is impossible to know which of your decisions were most effective; this limits the educational potential of the game.

Despite its flaws, ‘Stop Disasters!’ is a game worth playing and sharing with children due to its potential to save lives. Climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of many types of natural disasters around the world, so it is important for people to be aware and prepared for these dangers now more than ever. Overall, this game makes for one of the best ways to teach children about the risks of natural hazards, and what they can do to stay safe.  

Gameplay/Fun: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Educational: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Scientific Rigor: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Accessibility: Ages 9-16
Platform: Web browser (Flash)

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