Plague Inc.

plague incA mobile game whose goal is to kill people by spreading infectious disease is embraced by “gamers and public health officials alike,” reports Meg Tirrell in Bloomberg Businessweek (12/2/13). Plague Inc., available as a 99¢ download “on iPhone, iPad and Android,” has attracted “more than 15 million downloads since its release last year.” Its premise is that players take advantage of the vulnerabilities of countries around the world – “climate, population density, poverty – to help … disease spread before a cure is discovered.”

This appeals to W. Ian Lipkin, director of Columbia University’s Center for Infection and Immunity. “Games like this reach people who don’t think about the importance of science,” he says.  Dave Daigle, a spokesman for the US Centers for Disease Control, agrees. “We think everyone can learn from this,” he says. “Public health is one of those things very few of us know about unless something goes wrong.” The need for awareness is especially high given cutbacks for funding for science in the US.

Plague Inc. is the brainchild of James Vaughan, 26, who “designed it around actual risks such as antibiotic resistance.” He did not, however, “build the game with education in mind. While a consultant with Accenture in London, he sought a creative side project” and “spent less than $5,000 developing the game over the course of a year.” He says he now gets emails from everyone “from people teaching 11-year-olds to people doing PhDs in infectious diseases,” including messages from parents delighted that “Little Timmy” is suddenly interested in “where Bolivia is” and what kind of climate it has.

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