Simulating pandemics
Simulating pandemics
Jan Victor R. Mateo (The Philippine Star) - March 1, 2020 - 12:00am

Long before the emergence of the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19), millions of mobile gamers have already been simulating the spread of deadly diseases threatening to wipe humanity off this planet.

Launched in 2012, mobile game Plague Inc. has regained popularity in recent weeks as more cases of COVID-19 are reported in different countries.The game – which tasks players to evolve a disease to eliminate all humans – has become one of the bestselling mobile applications in China, ground zero of the COVID-19 outbreak.

The game has become so popular that the website of its creator, Ndemic Creations, was briefly inaccessible in January due to very high number of users.

“Plague Inc. has been out for eight years now and whenever there is an outbreak of disease we see an increase in players, as people seek to find out more about how diseases spread and to understand the complexities of viral outbreaks,” the company said in response to COVID-19.

“We specifically designed the game to be realistic and informative, while not sensationalizing serious real-world issues. This has been recognized by the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention of the United States) and other leading medical organizations around the world,” it added.

Plague Inc. lets players choose a pathogen – bacteria, virus, fungi, etc. – and evolve it to adapt to different environments. Players can choose which country to infect first, and control mutations that dictate the infectivity and lethality of the disease.

It uses an epidemic model affected by different variables, such as modes of transportation and the capability of countries to develop a cure.The main objective? Infect and annihilate all of humanity.

Offhand, playing such a game while the world is in the middle of a real threat may seem grim, if not downright inappropriate.But there are those who suggest that playing the game allows people to cope with fears of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Others, as Ndemic pointed out, seem to have downloaded the game to get more information about outbreaks.

A feature about Plague Inc. at the CDC website described it as a tool to “teach the public about outbreaks and disease transmission because of how it uses a non-traditional route to raise public awareness on epidemiology, disease transmission and diseases/pandemic information.”

“The game creates a compelling world that engages the public on serious public health topics,” it added.In the same article, Plague Inc. developer James Vaughan said the game has become an educational tool used by teachers to illustrate biological and economical concepts to their students.

“It makes people think about infectious disease in a new light – helping them realize the threats that we face every day,” he was quoted as saying.But while the game was designed to be realistic, Ndemic reminded its users that Plague Inc. is not the real thing.

“Please remember that Plague Inc. is a game, not a scientific model and that the current coronavirus outbreak is a very real situation which is impacting a huge number of people,” it said in its advisory.

“We would always recommend that players get their information directly from local and global health authorities,” it added, directing users to COVID-19 materials on the website of the World Health Organization.

Ndemic also regularly updates its social media followers with developments about the new disease.

Originally available for iOS and Android users, a more recent version brought Plague Inc. to other platforms, including consoles, laptops and desktop computers.

A board game has also been developed, allowing players to compete with each other as they try to infect cites with their own diseases.

Over the years, new scenarios have been incorporated in the mobile game, including those that are based on real world threats such as swine flu, mad cow disease, smallpox and the black death.

Interestingly, some of the new scenarios also feature situations that are not necessarily related to illnesses, such as those taking into account issues such as climate change and the spread of “science denial” across the planet.

Last year, Ndemic also launched what it described as the “radically different” Fake News scenario that allows users to create their own fake news story and deceive the world using modern tools and psychological tricks.

“Just like a deadly pandemic, the spread of misinformation is a huge threat to our society,” Vaughan said at the time of the launch.

“When designing this new update for Plague Inc., it was scary how many of our infection algorithms translated perfectly to the world of false facts, fake news and bad information,” he added.

The mobile game, which costs P29, may be downloaded on Apple Store and Google Play.



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