Infectious Entertainment

| November 26, 2012 | 0 Comments

By Hanna Guimaraes

“This just doesn’t feel right,” I reflected, while the bacteria I created spread from one continent to another, coloring the world map a menacing red. Maniacal enthusiasm in using my “DNA points” to upgrade my bacteria’s infectiousness, ability to transmit, and symptoms all too quickly meant I had no infected people left at the end of the game, rendering this round a total failure.

Incidentally, I only made my creation extra-multi-resistant (and had there been a totally resistant option I probably would have vamped up to it in no time). Alas, it’s not every day you pretend to bring about the end of humanity using your own carefully customized pathogen! I would not, however, go as far as stating that “Killing billions has never been so fun”, as stated in one of the many positive reviews for the iPhone game app “Plague.”1

As we live in a world at increasing risk to infectious disease outbreaks, what with a rise in frequency of global travel and a growing probability of cross-species transmission2, there seems to be a parallel trend in how this topic springs up in everyday entertainment.

“Pandemic,” the board game, is based on the premise that four diseases have broken out in the world, and winning involves cooperation with other players in finding a cure and halting their spread. Those who relish on a solo victory might not like this as much – the win or loss applies to all, reflective of the quality of the joint effort. An unusual yet noble twist to the game, and very much as it is in real life.

For the less playful and more audio-inclined, the Radiolab podcast from November 2011, entitled “Patient Zero,” covers the story of perhaps the most iconic Patient Zero of all time: Typhoid Mary, and then dives into a molecular detective story to pinpoint the beginning of AIDS3. And last but not least, a mention of “Contagion,” a medical thriller movie depicting the rapid spread of a virus, inspired by recent pandemics such as the 2003 SARS epidemic.

In as much as these cited examples share the lightweight aim of amusement, each can boast of indirect pedagogic accomplishments. As much as I depicted “Plague” as the opportunity to enact being bioterrorist master of the world, it actually entails a mix of high strategy and realistic simulation, and comes complete with plotted epidemic curves, news-like announcements in real time, and plenty of stats for you to base your decisions around. In “Pandemic,” players take on the role of one of five possible specialists – dispatcher, medic, scientist, researcher or operations expert – the same roles that are set out to be realistically depicted in “Contagion,” denoting the importance of efforts carried out by scientists and public health professionals. And as much as the “R nought” definition may have been hammered into you, it is succinctly introduced by Radiolab to the mass listeners out there, those who will never sit in any epidemiology class.

This is science, yet disassembled and re-packaged into an accessible and enjoyable format, meanwhile raising awareness and conveying the risks we all face from emerging infectious diseases. For a threat that is most eminent nowadays, yet very much disregarded and misunderstood by many, being minimally informed cannot hurt.


  2. Hughes et al, 2010. The Origin and Prevention of Pandemics. Clinical Infectious Diseases 50(12):1636-1640.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Category: Infectious, Online

About the Author ()

Leave a Reply