Plague Inc. creator reminds us games have limits on what they can teach us

Plague Inc. creator Ndemic Creations announced on Friday that players should remember that their game isn’t a scientific model for how to deal with the coronavirus that broke out in Wuhan, China.

For me, this is a reminder that there are things you can learn from video games, but there are limits to this as well.

The idea behind this 2012 simulation game is to show what a worldwide pandemic would be like, but the company became concerned about the influx it saw last week as it became the top-selling app in China. The coronavirus has killed more than 80 people so far.

The developer recommended that people who are inundating the company’s website and spiking interest in the game should check out official sources like the World Health Organization. The Centers for Disease Control answered a Q&A about Plague Inc. in 2013. The site for the game is functioning again.

“Plague Inc. has been out for eight years now, and whenever there is an outbreak of disease, we see an increase in players, as people seek to find out more about how diseases spread and to understand the complexities of viral outbreaks,” the studio said in a post.

But the company said that while the game is realistic, it isn’t a scientific model of how the current coronavirus would unfold.

In other news, the coronavirus in China has forced the closure of League of Legends and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive esports events in the region.

The League of Legends Pro League (LPL) has postponed the second week events of its 2020 season until it can ensure the safety and health of players and fans. And the WESG esports event for CS:GO was also put on hold.

What games can teach

Games can teach us things, especially high-level concepts. The Climate Trail by William Volk is like the educational game The Oregon Trail, but its focus is on the disasters that could happen if the Earth’s climate warmed by 5 degrees Celsius. I played through the game recently, and it teaches a realistic view of whether people could survive a migration to colder climates like Canada. But for more information, it refers to a World Bank document.

There are definite general benefits of playing video games. The engagement you get from games is also a reason that gamification has also taken off in the corporate world, whether it’s for training or education about harassment policies. Historical games like the Total War series are great at teaching history, but they may also veer away from history in the name of fun.

Games that are designed from the beginning to teach have a better chance of being more educational, but they also run the risk of boring players. Hopelab showed it could teach kids about cancer with its game Re-Mission (2006) and Re-Mission 2 (2013), but it appeals to the concentrated audience of people dealing with cancer.

I recall that I learned more about how taxes work from SimCity, when I played the city-building game decades ago. I could raise taxes so much, but at some point, my citizens started leaving the city to go to neighboring cities that had lower taxes.

In a statement, the studio said:

The Coronavirus outbreak in China is deeply concerning and we’ve received a lot of questions from players and the media.

Plague Inc. has been out for eight years now and whenever there is an outbreak of disease we see an increase in players, as people seek to find out more about how diseases spread and to understand the complexities of viral outbreaks.

We specifically designed the game to be realistic and informative, while not sensationalising serious real-world issues. This has been recognised by the CDC and other leading medical organisations around the world.

However, 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. We would always recommend that players get their information directly from local and global health authorities.

You can find out more about the CDC and Plague Inc. here.

You can find out more information about Coronavirus here.

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