Plague Inc, a game that lets users destroy the world with a novel pathogen, has created a new version of the game, in which players can save the world from a virus.
The game, which has occupied a position on the App store charts ever since it was created in 2012, reached new levels of international popularity in 2020, curiously at the same time the novel coronavirus started to spread.
But as it spread, and was officially declared a pandemic on March 12, players reached out to game developer Ndemic Creations to see if a new version of the game, in which the world could be saved instead of destroyed, could be designed.
In the new game mode, players will control world governments, boost healthcare systems, impose quarantines and shut down public services to prevent the infection from spreading.
"Eight years ago, I never imagined the real world would come to resemble a game of Plague Inc. or that so many players would be using Plague Inc. to help them get through an actual pandemic," James Vaughan, creator of Plague Inc, wrote in a press release.
Vaughan also announced that his company would be donating $US250,000, evenly split between the Coalition of Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and the World Health Organisation's COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund.
As the threat of COVID-19 grew, many players reached out to the developers of Plague Inc for answers
Plague Inc tends to see a spike in users every time there's a threat of an outbreak, from Ebola to the flu.
But when it came to COVID-19, so many people reached out to ask the creators of Plague Inc questions about the new coronavirus that the company was forced to issue a statement, saying: "Plague Inc. is a game, not a scientific model, and that the current coronavirus outbreak is a very real situation."
"It's certainly possible that people are playing [Plague Inc.] as a way to work through anxiety or put things into perspective," mental health researcher Michelle Carras Colder, who has published research on video games with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, previously told Business Insider.
In 2013, Vaughan gave a talk at the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The game was praised by Ali S. Khan, then the assistant surgeon general at the CDC, for its use of a "non-traditional route to raise public awareness on epidemiology, disease transmission, and diseases/pandemic information."
Previously, in medical journals Science, Epidemiology, and Lancet Infectious Disease, epidemiologists suggested role playing video games could be a successful at modelling an outbreak and teaching people how viral infections work.
In January, on the Chinese social media site Weibo, one Plague Inc. player said the appeal of the game lay in "pretending to occupy the position of the perpetrator." By the end of February the game was banned in China. Ndemic announced that they been informed that the game 'includes content that is illegal in China as determined by the Cyberspace Administration of China.'
Industry analyst Daniel Ahmad, an analyst an Nike Partners, noted that other virus-related games have remained available for playing in China. On Twitter, he theorised that the removal may be because in the game the virus always starts in China in Plague Inc, or because Ndemic is working on a fake news update to their game, that allows people to spread misinformation.
The new update, which is still being developed, will be free for all players. Ndemic Creations has not replied to Business Insider's request for comment.
This article was originally published by Business Insider.
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