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SYFY WIRE coronavirus

Long-running video game 'Plague Inc.' flipping script from destroying the world to saving it

By Adam Pockross
plague inc

Since 2012, Plague Inc. has been letting gamers try to end the world with a plague of their own creation, so you can see the kind of PR nightmare its creators might be having in the midst of our current, all-too-real global pandemic. So how has Ndemic, the game’s creator, reacted? By flipping the entire globe-devastating premise on its head to let players now try and save the world.

Already a mainstay on the end-of-the-world gaming scene, Plague Inc. has seen a surge in popularity as COVID-19 has surged in deadly scope. At the beginning of March, it even bested perennial favorite Minecraft as the top paid iPhone app (further solidifying the evidence that people really like to be entertained by the premise of an existential threat in the midst of an actual one). Granted, the strategy game had been banned by China the week before, presumably in response to the coronavirus spread.

Normally, Plague Inc. would begin with a player developing a pathogen that infects "Patient Zero," and then, by mixing high strategy with realistic simulation, bringing about the end of humanity through the evolution of a deadly and quickly adapting global plague. It's “You vs. the world," and "only the strongest can survive!”, as Ndemic Creations’ website bills it.

However, in lieu of recent catastrophic developments, Ndemic is developing a new free game mode that will let players do the exact opposite of the game’s original intent.

The company is now “accelerating work on a new Plague Inc. game mode which lets players save the world from a deadly disease outbreak,” according to an announcement earlier this week. “Players will have to balance managing disease progression and boosting healthcare systems as well as controlling real-world actions such as triaging, quarantining, social distancing and closing of public services.”

And it sounds like the update will be not only entertaining, but also informative, as Ndemic is working with the World Health Organisation, the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network, and other experts in the pandemic field.
To further help fight the good fight (and boost its positive PR), Ndemic is donating $250,000 “on behalf of all players of Plague Inc.” to the Coalition of Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and the World Health Organisation’s COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund.

“Eight years ago, I never imagined the real world would come to resemble a game of Plague Inc. or that so many players would be using Plague Inc. to help them get through an actual pandemic,” said James Vaughan, the game’s creator, in a statement. “We are proud to be able to help support the vital work of the WHO and CEPI as they work towards finding a vaccine for COVID-19.”

Plague Inc. is now available on iOS, Android, PC, Mac, Xbox One, PS4, and Linux. Or there’s also a board game, which, as the website promotes, “lets players compete against each other in the real world” … well, perhaps in due time, one can hope.

This story presents some humorous responses to coronavirus, but COVID-19 is very real! Please exercise caution out there: Wash those hands, stay at home, and practice social distancing. For extensive information on how to keep you and your loved ones safe, check out the CDC’s coronavirus website.