When A Game is Too Realistic: Coronavirus Disease Mapping

One of the reasons that I love Jodi Picoult‘s books so much is that it gives me a safe place to think about ethical issues that I hope that I will never have to face. Movies, TV shows, video and computer games can also provide a place for people to explore a million different, “What if?” scenarios from the comfort of their own homes. This recent article (Plague Inc. maker: Don’t use our game for coronavirus modeling) reminded me of how thirsty people are for information and will use any and every resource at their disposal.

Recently, Ndemic Creations (based out of the United Kingdom) has seen a spike it its eight-year-old game Plague Inc where players guide the spread of a worldwide pandemic.

The surge in interest has led Ndemic to issue a statement urging players not to rely on the app for information on staying safe from the coronavirus’ current spread. “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,” the statement reads, in part. “We would always recommend that players get their information directly from local and global health authorities.”

At the same time, Ndemic notes that Plague Inc. was “specifically designed… to be realistic and informative, while not sensationalising serious real-world issues.” The company points to a 2013 CDC interview which highlights the online research that went into the game, as well as its use as “an educational tool—teachers and professors often get in touch to let me know how they used Plague Inc. to illustrate biological and economical concepts to their students.”

What if there was an online game that had supernatural powers and when a group of kids start playing with it, the parallels with what happening around the world are too much of a coincidence?

Or

What if the parents work for the CDC and their kid is a computer gamer and the kid actually figures out the next potential outbreak before they do?

Or

What if a game is sold as an undercover way to gather data? The game provides the villains with a roadmap on where and when to release a deadly virus.

Or

What if a group of kid games crack the code on the current pandemic and need to convince the CDC that they know where the next outbreak will be?

Who wants to talk more about how you can use this idea in your current or next story?

[Credit: flickr/aka p-marx hanley]

E-mail emilie@real2reelscience.com Hours M-F: 5-10pm EDT, EST Weekends: 12-5pm and other times by appointment.
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