New Video: Volcanoes and video games

Recently, I filmed a short video with Iain Stewart talking all about my PhD research to-date. My research is all about how we can use video games to enhance volcanic hazard education and outreach sessions, using the Caribbean island of St. Vincent. In the video I explain some of the processes undertaken as part of the research, describe and demonstrate our bespoke designed game – St. Vincent’s Volcano – and talk about the future use of video games for education and outreach.

You can watch the video here:

You can read more about my research in our latest publication Using video games for volcanic hazard education and communication: an assessment of the method and preliminary results

If you have any questions about this research, please feel free to contact me:


New paper: Using video games for volcanic hazard education and communication: assessment of the methods and preliminary results.

Our new paper based on my PhD research has just been published in the Natural Hazards and Earth Systems Science (NHESS) Journal of the EGU.


This paper presents the findings from a study aimed at understanding whether video games (or serious games) can be effective in enhancing volcanic hazard education and communication. Using the eastern Caribbean island of St. Vincent, we have developed a video game – St. Vincent’s Volcano – for use in existing volcano education and outreach sessions. Its twin aims are to improve residents’ knowledge of potential future eruptive hazards (ash fall, pyroclastic flows and lahars) and to integrate traditional methods of education in a more interactive manner. Here, we discuss the process of game development including concept design through to the final implementation on St. Vincent. Preliminary results obtained from the final implementation (through pre- and post-test knowledge quizzes) for both student and adult participants provide indications that a video game of this style may be effective in improving a learner’s knowledge. Both groups of participants demonstrated a post-test increase in their knowledge quiz score of 9.3 % for adults and 8.3 % for students and, when plotted as learning gains (Hake, 1998), show similar overall improvements (0.11 for adults and 0.09 for students). These preliminary findings may provide a sound foundation for the increased integration of emerging technologies within traditional education sessions. This paper also shares some of the challenges and lessons learnt throughout the development and testing processes and provides recommendations for researchers looking to pursue a similar study.

It’s open access and can be viewed and downloaded from here:

Some tweets about the new paper:

A big thank you to everyone that made the paper possible. If you have any questions, please feel free to drop me and email:

“When I played the game, I saw those clouds all over again”

I’m not one to make New Year Resolutions but here is one: up-date my blog more. So here is my first post of the year!

Recently, I’ve been listening back through recordings and watching the videos taken during my fieldwork in St. Vincent last year. During one of my adult sessions in the northern town of Fancy (in close proximity to the La Soufriere volcano), the participants began to talk openly about their experiences of the 1979 eruption. It was a compelling session to sit through as the group remembered, together, the events during the beginning of the eruption.

“I woke up and there was a man yelling in the street ‘Wake up! Wake up! La Soufriere erupting!’ First thing I did, run for my radio” one of the participants recalled. “I remember seeing a cloud of smoke rolling down the mountain, it was scary. When I played the game, I saw those clouds all over again”

Hazard Training Pyroclastic Flows 2

Screen shot from St. Vincent’s Volcano game showing visualisations of pyroclastic flows on St. Vincent.

Interestingly enough, this wasn’t the first time I’d heard someone say the game had invoked memories of their personal experience of 1979. During the very early stages of my fieldwork on St. Vincent, I’d demonstrated the game with some key stakeholders on the island. One of the members of the group explained to me that watching the visualisation of the 1979 eruption and hearing the sounds again reminded him of how it felt to be there, watching the eruption unfold before him.

Although the game was not intentionally designed to refresh memories of the 1979 eruption, it is not a completely unexpected ‘side-effect’. Video games are well known for invoking behavioral changes and emotions – some of you may be familiar with the debate on video games and violence.

The 1979 eruption was a major event in the lives of people on the island that saw a disruption to their routine for months in the aftermath. Further, it is often talked about in informal conversation, used as a marker in time and brought into the frame annually through outreach activities with communities across the island. Research suggests that a strong emotive experience, such as the 1979 eruption, supports memory encoding thus leading to the events becoming more memorable (LaBar & Cabeza, 2006; Howard-Jones et al, 2015). This simply means, the more emotive a situation you experience, (e.g. extreme happiness on your wedding day) the clearer, more accurate memory you have of the event.

In practice, this could mean that many of the islands residents, particularly those living close to La Soufriere at the time, may have very strong memories of the 1979 eruption and a good memory recall of the events. It might not seem surprising then that when provoked with realistic-looking visualisations reconstructing the eruption (especially when based on observations and accounts from the time), some of the participants express an emotional response and resurface vivid memories of these events.

However, this slightly unexpected outcome of the game, invoking strong memories of the 1979 event, means that a new use of the game could be exploited – the preservation of cultural heritage. This is something that, in the coming months, will be interesting to look at deeper but for now is an exciting prospect and potentially important in the design of future iterations of the game.

SVG Fieldwork March – May 2015

Freshly back from my recent field campaign in St. Vincent, I’ve been eagerly sifting through my mounds of data, hours of footage and folders of photographs. I had intended to keep a good blog record of my fieldwork throughout, however, that might have been somewhat ambitious. However, I still wanted to share what I got up to during my time on St. Vincent and some of the superb activities I was involved with.

As many of you know, over the last year  as part of my PhD research, I have developed a new interactive computer game to be used in volcanic hazard education and outreach for the Eastern Caribbean island of St. Vincent. After a hectic year and final few weeks of tweaking and testing, I headed out to St. Vincent in late March to begin game trials. First thing to do was to met with key members of the National Emergency Management Organisation (NEMO), who run a lot of the volcano education sessions on St. Vincent, to talk to them about the game and my intentions over the coming weeks. They seemed to be pleased with the game and excited to see how successful a tool like this could be which was a great start.

Over the initial few weeks, I arranged community sessions with adults across the island, particularly targetting ‘Red Zone’ residents. The ‘Red Zone’ refers to the volcanic hazard map produced for the island which identifies areas of the island which are most likely to be affected by volcanic hazards during a future volcanic eruption. Adult community sessions were run in Chateaubelair, Fancy and Georgetown with a later session also run in the Kingstown area.

Hazard Map

The Volcanic Hazard Map as visualised with the ‘St. Vincent’s Volcano’ computer game.

Volcano Awareness Week (VAW) – 20-24th April 2015.

During my field campaign, the annual Volcano Awareness Week activities were conducted across the island. The activities are organised by NEMO and run by The University of the West Indies, Seismic Research Centre (SRC) in collaboration with the Soufriere Monitoring Unit (SMU). This year I was lucky enough to join in with the activities and test out the game as we went. The weeks activities consist of an intensive schools education programme for both Primary and Secondary Schools, with over 1000 students taught throughout the week. This year the school focus was around the Kingstown area, which is within the ‘Green Zone’, to raise awareness about how Green does not mean safe. Even in the Green Zone they may experience heavy ash fall and of course, the influx of evacuees from the other, more at-risk locations.


Richie Robertson of UWI SRC talking about the Volcanic Hazard Map for St. Vincent to a school group during VAW 2015

The activities are designed to coincide with the anniversary of the 1979 eruption of La Soufriere, which saw over 20,000 people evacuated to emergency shelters after it began to erupt on 13th April. The 1979 eruption is something most people living on the island are aware of and may have even experienced and I heard many people talking about it throughout the week. However, it was clear throughout the sessions we ran, that very few people knew details of the eruption and were unaware of eruptions prior to this event including the 1902 eruption when over 1500 people died.

During Volcano Awareness Week, emergency managers, emergency responders and government officials join together to review the national emergency management plan for the island in the case of a future volcanic crisis. This is done annually to ensure there is a plan in place to manage a crisis situation, to make sure roles are established and that emergency shelters and materials are ready. The workshop ran over two days with all key parties in attendance.

The week of activities culminated with a hike of La Soufriere with community groups and school children. This year over 135 people hiked the volcano on a hot and humid day with the crater lightly capped with cloud. We were joined by over 60 students from The Bishops College from Kingstown who were lucky enough to have a more hands-on learning experience from the craters edge. The day was superb and it was a great opportunity to meet with local community members and talk about their personal experiences of the 1979 eruption. After many hours of hiking up and down the volcano, what better way to round off a superb VAW than with a large feast – a truly amazing day!

SAM_2848 SAM_2860 SAM_2873


After VAW I continued on my quest for data and ran many more sessions in secondary schools across the island and with community groups. The game proved to be quite a success during its testing and with the Ministry of Education, who are interested in using the game as a resource to support the national curriculum, potentially insuring the games longevity. The project was made much easier by the fact all secondary school children on St. Vincent are provided with a laptop from the government and facilities on the island are only set to improve further in the near future. However, fieldwork of this kind is not without its challenges and remaining dynamic throughout was essential. Issues relating to the lack of facilities in schools, robust power supplies, time management and organisation undoubtedly hindered research progress and were a steep learning curve. However, I have returned from fieldwork with a nice data set to start working with and trying to establish if and how much this game has been a success.

I just want to take this opportunity to say a big thank you to all of the people that helped and supported my research on St. Vincent and continue to do so and to all those that participated. I’m looking forward to sharing some of the data and research outcomes with you in the coming months!


Me with a school group during my fieldwork on SVG

– L

“I’ll never forget that day” – 36th Anniversary of La Soufriere, St. Vincent

Today marks the 36th anniversary of the last eruption of La Soufriere on the Caribbean island of St. Vincent. I’m currently on the island as part of my PhD research into how we can use educational computer games to improve volcanic hazard education and outreach.


La Soufriere summit crater with the current lava dome that was extruded between 1979-1980. Photo taken 03/4/15.

Last January the STREVA Project ran workshops on St. Vincent to record peoples accounts of the 1979 eruption and to gain an understanding of people awareness of risk – you can read more about it here and here. It was incredible to hear, so vividly, people recall their experience of that eruption and how the island responded.

I’ve been on the island just under 3 weeks now and during this time many people have told me their experiences of that Good Friday, 1979. A few in particular have stuck in my mind and I thought I would share them with you.

I happened to sit next to a lady on the flight to Barbados, who was from St. Vincent, and she told me she was around 7 at the time of the eruption: “I was in Orange Hill (an old plantation estate on the windward side) at the time with my Nanny. I remember the panic, people running and so much noise – everyone was moving south.” She explained her family lived on the nearby Grenadine island of Bequia: “My daddy came across on the boat and picked us up and took us home. We looked back at the island and it was dark. He told me he’d taken the boat to the Leeward side of the island to see what was happening and saw lava pouring into the sea. I’ll never forget that day”.

Last week I visited the community of Fancy, the northern-most town on the island, to run a workshop. I had 7 participants who began to tell me the story of their community during the eruption. “We knew something was wrong, we heard some rumblings but we thought it was thunder” explained one of the participants. “I remember that radio broadcast from Milton Cato, ‘My Vincentian people, don’t panic! Don’t panic!’” the group laughed at this memory and many people, when they think of the eruption, recall that radio message. One participant continues to explain “We got a call and they told us to get ready so we all calmly packed up our things and waited on the roadside. The Government buses came and we got on and they took us south to the shelters. By then though the ashes were falling so heavily and we had to knock out the windscreen of the bus so he could see!”. One participant went on to recall “I remember those thunder clouds come rumbling down the volcano and the lightning and the lavas flowing down the valleys to the sea, it was so terrifying. I never want to see that again, I’ll never forget that day.”

The participants from Fancy played the game I have developed which depicts the 1979 eruption. There were murmurings around the room as it aroused memories of that time – “do you remember that cloud?” I heard one lady ask another “It came rumbling down so fast”.

Workshop participants in Fancy playing the computer game depicting the 1979 eruption.

Workshop participants in Fancy playing the computer game depicting the 1979 eruption.

Interestingly also both accounts recall watching lava pouring into the ocean. When discussed further with the groups it’s clear that there is a common misunderstanding – in fact what they’re talking about is lahars or volcanic mudflows. There were no lava flows associated with the 1979 eruption. This is something I have noted in the accounts of several people during my time on the island.

Another great recollection of that day in 1979 from Dr Richie Robertson from UWI SRC which can be read on the London Volcano Blog along with some superb photos. Everybody has a story from 1979 and those that I’ve spoken to always end by saying “I’ll never forget that day” and it’s not hard to understand why. You can hear more about people’s accounts from 1979 through three great films produced by the STEVA team last year which can be found here.

Next week I’ll be joining UWI SRC and NEMO in a campaign of education and outreach during the annual Volcano Awareness Week on St. Vincent in commemoration of the 1979 eruption. We’ll be running workshops in schools across the island and running community sessions. I’ll be blogging and tweeting about our progress throughout!

– L


The view across Chateaubelair to La Soufriere

The countdown to fieldwork

We’re on the final countdown to fieldwork! Next week my supervisor Paul and I are heading to St. Vincent in the Caribbean to start trialing our game (and to look at some rocks).

The first few weeks will be working with stakeholders on the island and recruiting participants to undertake outreach sessions. We then have ‘Volcano Awareness Week’ beginning the 19th April in which I’ll be joining the UWI Seismic Research Centre and NEMO on their campaign of education and outreach across the island – primarily in schools. The weeks activities also include the annual volcano hike. A few more weeks of testing and interviews and then it’s a heavy few months of data analysis for me!

So if you want to follow what we’ll be up to over the coming weeks, I’ll be tweeting and blogging throughout our trip; sharing news of our progress and showing you some of this truly beautiful island.

SSV chateaub2

St. Vincent’s La Soufriere Volcano as viewed from Chateaubelair – one of our field localities! Photo taken by Paul Cole

Also just a big thank you for all the lovely messages, re-tweets and support for my research over the recent weeks. I was lucky enough to do a short interview with Geographical Magazine and have an article featured on their website. That article was then followed up by Plymouth University and a second article released. All of the support has been overwhelming and I’m so excited to finally, after nearly a year of development,  get people playing the game!

— L