On a Sunday drive with my wife, Sarah talked about how she will be teaching on public health and epidemics in her microbiology classes soon. For as long as I have known Sarah, she gets REALLY excited about epidemiology. She gets excited in the same way that a four year old boy gets “giddy” to go on a shopping spree in “Toys R Us” with grandma. She’s just really passionate about this topic. With this in mind, I did a little bit of game hunting for my wife.
Through one of my work buddies, I heard about this game called “Plague” that relates exactly to this topic. In the game, the player gains a better sense of why some illnesses are transmitted more than others, the formal names and characteristics of various symptoms, and how world governments and media might react to an outbreak.
For a quick introduction to the story of the game, I would invite you to check out the video below:
I have to admit the game is kind of morbid. As a player, your objective is to destroy the whole world with your disease. (bacteria, virus, fungus, etc.) You take on the evil role of infecting and dominating the whole world. In this game of strategy, you start by selecting the country where your disease starts. (usually a poor country) The app simulates aspects of people traveling from one country to the next and “country to country” trade. If your disease has high infectivity and becomes lethal too quickly, countries start to isolate themselves from the infected countries. You receive feedback about the progress of the game by reading news headlines and listening to the various sounds. (coughing, sneezing, etc.) In this game, your enemies are those who are making a cure for your disease. You especially need to outwit the richer nations who have well funded medical research. As your disease spreads, you earn DNA points. You exchange DNA points for the opportunity to evolve your illness. During the simulation, you influence how your disease gets transmitted, disease symptoms, drug resistance, and other abilities. To win, you have to find the right timing and balance between infectivity, disease severity, and lethality.
The following video shows how the game is played:
On the easiest mode, it took three or four trials before I started to understand the basic dynamics of creating a plague. While the game is a very morbid simulation, I can see that students would have fun designing their illnesses while getting a gentle introduction to the basic vocabulary of public health.
If you’re a biology teacher looking for a fun and meaningful way to introduce epidemiology or you’re looking for a new strategy game, check out Plague. You can find it on the Android and iOS app stores.
Photo taken from: http://www.flickr.com/photos/twenty_questions/2192450204/sizes/m/in/photostream/