Videogame (2012). Ndemic Creations. Platforms: IoS, Android; as vt Plague, Inc: Evolved, PC, Xbox One.
A deadly plague is spreading across the world at an alarming rate. People cower inside their houses. Transport gradually shuts down and the world goes dark as the last survivors are left mewling and puking in holes in the ground. The player's mission is to help these plagues spread and exterminate the human race....
Plague Inc. is a Disaster simulation game about killing the entire world via deadly pathogen as quickly and comprehensively as possible. The player must manufacture a homegrown End of the World situation by evolving a plague and spreading it across the globe, systematically infecting and then killing everyone on the planet before humanity can fight back. The game is extremely strategic and involves elements of forward planning, resource management and quick adaptation to changes or events. Starting with only one infected person, the player must balance the spread of each plague with its relative deadliness; become too deadly too quickly, and the plague will eradicate itself; spread too slowly, and humanity will fight back and invent a cure.
The player begins by choosing a type of plague from twelve available versions including real world variants such as virus, bacteria, fungus, prion and bio-weapon, and fantastic versions that include nano-viruses (see Nanotechnology), neurax worms which burrow into the brain, and Simian Flu, a plague released in conjunction with the film Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011). After this choice is made, the perspective of the game switches to a top-down view where the player can see a map of the world, split into various geographical sections and connecting travel routes. Dots on the map show groups of infected or dead people – red for infected, black for dead – within each location. Each location also displays statistics and information such as whether its travel routes are open or closed, and the number of infected/dead. The player must find ways to develop the plague, as well as spread it to every country in the world. This is done by earning points – gained by spreading the plague and subsequently letting it kill people – which can be spent on various upgrades that evolve each plague. Possibilities for Evolution include increasing the means by which the plague is transmitted via symptoms or infectiousness, boosting the plague's general resistance to elements like weather, temperature and medical attempts to counter it, and by making it more deadly overall. Aspects of the game may sometimes require the player to backwards-engineer some of these traits in order to succeed.
With each subsequent playthrough of the game, more options are made available to the starting pathogen, which can be added to alter gameplay from the beginning. Some make the game more difficult, whereas others cater specifically to individual plague types in order to make them more deadly. In 2014, a pathogen which allowed players to learn about and donate to a charity attempting to combat Ebola was released, coinciding with relief efforts aiding the outbreak in Africa.
Along with many games of this nature – see for example Pandemic (2008), Fate of the World (Rowlands et al. 2011) the Civilisation and the series Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri (1991-current) – where simulations of real-life biological, historical or scientific principles can be recreated via Counterfactual, Near-Future or Alternate World simulations, Plague Inc has become a useful teaching tool for schools and universities, in particular when determining the difference between the game's more and less realistic aspects. The game is both heartbreaking and cathartic to play – heartbreaking in that the annihilation of the human race is both so easy and so clinically indifferent in the execution thereof, cathartic in that finally turning the world to black is one of the most satisfying acts in recent gaming history. [EMS]