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A very tasteless game

Over the Christmas holidays I came across a very addictive game for my iPad (versions available on other platforms) called Plague Inc. It’s a strategy game, whereby you initially infect Patient Zero somewhere in the world with a weak strain of a disease, and then evolve the disease’s abilities with the aim of wiping out all human life on Earth, whilst humanity works hard to develop a cure and annihilate the plague. At its heart is a very realistic simulation engine of how diseases spread, by land, air, rat, mosquito, birds, etc etc. There’s a running news commentary with a combination of sensationalist tabloid headlines and bulletins from the WHO etc as your disease gains in severity and lethality.

I played it a good few times last month, and it was an interesting, if slightly macabre, way of spending a wet Sunday afternoon. But the recent headlines about the Zika virus have paralleled the game to an uncanny degree. It’s clear from the simulations in the game just how dangerous a mosquito-borne virus is in Africa and South America, and how international air and sea travel make diseases spread globally very quickly. Even the headlines in the press have paralleled similar headlines in the game – should the Olympics be postponed?, the WHO putting it on a watch-list, countries pooling their research efforts to stop it. The game developers were certainly very prescient and have produced a remarkably realistic simulation. Or at least aspects of it are realistic – I’ve just reached the higher levels of the game which concerns a virus that turns people into zombies. I’m sure that Zika isn’t quite that serious…..