A research team at Durham University has discovered that the systems behind popular first-person shooters such as Halo and Doom, can also be used effectively to teach people about safety.

After trying a number of titles, the team eventually opted to use the engine behind Half Life 2 to create a virtual training ground for fire training simulations.

"The thing with virtual environments is that you can train for scenarios that you just can't do in real life", lead author Dr Shamus Smith of Durham's computer science department said. "You can't put someone in a burning building and say 'how are you going to react when it's full of smoke?'".

It is thought the method will be relatively inexpensive, and also flexible, allowing users to practice evacuation procedures on their own computer as well as in the workplace.

The project is now over, but Smith has said that the team is now considering whether to make the training tools available online for free.

He said: "We could take what we've done and convert it into a mod, put it online and make it available to download. If you've got Half-Life 2 you could run the mod – it would be a free and easy fire training session".