An emergency phone line operator isn’t the first job I’d think of that needs excellent language skills, but you’d be hard-pressed to find lots of better examples of work where your listening and speaking skills really make the difference between life and death.

I’ve been fortunate enough never to have made a call to 911 (or any other emergency number) that I can remember. So I’ve never really thought about the person on the other end of that line. Spending 7 or 8 hours with 911 Operator was therefore a completely novel experience for me.

911 Operator is a video game from independent Polish developer studio Jutsu about the difficult work of people that manage emergency lines and services. Your main task in the game is to answer incoming calls and to react properly – give first aid instructions, advise, dispatch correct number of firemen / police / ambulances, or sometimes just ignore the call. The way this works is that you hear the call and read the transcript as you listen. You then have a menu of choices to make your responses, and the conversation continues until you send help or decide that it’s not really an emergency.

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On top of that, there is a strategic layer which presents you with the map of a city. You need to click on fire engines, ambulances or police cars to send them to deal with the various emergencies. In addition to receiving and fielding calls, there are other emergencies that crop up in the form of text messages on the screen. Basically, your job is to get through the night (around fifteen minutes of real time) without too many casualties or too much damage done.

So, this involves a lot of reading and listening in real time. The more than 50 voiceover dialogues in the game meant that in the time I was playing I very rarely heard the same situation repeated. And the voiceover acting is pretty good too. Of course where I think this game really could be useful is for any teachers of medical English. There are a lot of first aid instructions you have to give, medical procedures that you have to choose from and this all brings up tons of health and body vocabulary. This could also be a useful simulation game to anyone teaching the police English, and I’ve trained several teachers who have gone on to do just that. There’s plenty of crime vocabulary to read and react to as well.

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Sending your units around the map gets a little more tricky. Because you have to make decisions quickly, that means a lot of snap judgement calls. Do I send one or two police cars? Do I send my last ambulance for what sounds like a minor medical emergency? This clicking around and assigning of resources kind of reminded me of other RTS (real-time strategy) games, which do involve quick assessment of a map and situation to be able to respond well, and can be frustrating for people not accustomed to the genre.

A final brilliant touch of the game is that it allows you to download a map of any city to play the simulation on. So I played a game on the map of my nearest city (Alicante) in Spain. That was quite fun, although you do have to suspend belief a bit… why would emergency officers in Spain be speaking in English? That being said, it was a nice little tweak.

I’d strongly recommend this game for any English language student or teacher wishing to work on vocabulary relating to health, first aid and crime. I can see this much more as a small group activity, perhaps with one student playing while the game is being projected – and other students helping to make decisions. I would certainly use this in a very small private class with a doctor or paramedic or police officer wishing to learn English. I can see it also giving rise to conversations as to how realistic this actually is to them.

911 Operator is available via Steam and costs around €15. Check out the trailer below to get a taste of what the game is like.

 

 

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