Chinese virus: the creator of Plague Inc. reminds us that his game is not used to understand the epidemic pidemic


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As the number of downloads of the video game Plague Inc. is on the rise again, its creator has warned the public that its title, however realistic it may be, is not a scientific model. It also encourages the use of authoritative medical sites.

The coronavirus epidemic, which has been in the news since mid-January, is proving to be more than just a public health challenge. It is also the cause of a very surprising behaviour in China, which is echoed by the BBC. Since January 22nd, the video game Plague Inc. has become the number one selling game on the App Store in China, even though the game is now eight years old.

The motivations that drive many Chinese mobinautes to rush into this mobile game are uncertain. At first glance, one might think that this is an indirect consequence of the censorship in force in the Middle Kingdom, as Beijing wanted to avoid alarming the population by restricting access to information and to avoid having to deal with rumours and false information about the disease in addition.

  • Read: Chinese virus: “The challenge is to be vigilant without being catastrophic”.

Image d’un coronavirus (ici celui qui provoque le Syndrome respiratoire aigu sévère). Le terme signifie « virus à couronne », car le virus est entouré d’une petite couronne. // Source : CDC

Image of a coronavirus (here the one that causes Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome). The term means “crown virus” because the virus is surrounded by a small crown // Source: CDC

However, there is another avenue that can be considered: that of the population’s desire to understand how the disease spreads in a globalised world, where airports and ports now connect almost every point in the world. This is the possibility envisaged by its developer, James Vaughan, who states that “Plague Inc. is a video game not a scientific model“.

In Plague Inc, the goal of the game is to develop the most fatal and infectious disease possible, in order to decimate the entire population of the globe. One must choose a type of epidemic (virus, bacterium, parasite, nano-virus, bio-weapon, prion, fungus), the mode of transmission (in the air, by contact, etc.), its symptoms and its capacities (drug resistance, mutation, etc.).

L’interface de Plague Inc, qui a donné lieu à une nouvelle version en 2016 : Plague Inc : Evolved.

The Plague Inc. interface, which resulted in a new version in 2016 : Plague Inc: Evolved.

Of course, James Vaughan admits it: “We specifically designed the game to be realistic and informative. “In addition, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States considers it as a “tool for educating the public about epidemics and disease transmission“, offering an original way to “raise awareness” about epidemiology, disease transmission and public health.

“The coronavirus outbreak in China is very worrying and we’ve received a lot of questions from players and the media,” continued the developer. “This is a very real situation that affects a very large number of people. We always recommend that players seek information directly from local and global health authorities.

Beware of where the information comes from

In France, the famous Pasteur Institute has opened a fact sheet on this disease and has indicated that it is actively involved in research to shed light on some of the questions still outstanding and to contribute to the development of a cure. Information is also available on the Santé Publique France website, which is under the responsibility of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, and on the WHO website.

For his part, James Vaughan, via his studio Ndemic Creations, invited the public to consult the medical authorities in a message published on 22 January on Twitter. On 24 January, he issued another warning message, which he initially posted on his website, but it is currently unavailable due to too many visitors. He reiterated his advice to visit authoritative sites.

There is no specific treatment yet. Human-to-human transmission is known to occur and it seems likely that the origin of this infection is animal – one avenue being considered is snakes. As of January 24, the number of infections remains low (614 confirmed cases and 17 deaths), compared to a “simple” seasonal flu, which killed 2,800 people in France in 2019.

  • Read: New virus in China: should we really be worried?

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