Beware the Gamers Flu – it could wipe out humanity.
This fictional malady, which breaks out in China and Japan following a game convention, is one of five viral illnesses that can be tackled in The Great Flu, a new online game created by reserachers at the Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands.
The Associated Press reports that the object of the game is to prevent a global pandemic:
To fight the emerging outbreak, players use measures including setting up surveillance systems, stockpiling antivirals and vaccines, and closing schools and airports. Players also have a limited budget and are warned that "your actions to control the virus cost money, so keep an eye on it."
A running tally of the numbers of people infected and those who have died sit above the budget. Newspaper stories about the deadly virus and the global response to it — like riots breaking out worldwide — pop up to help players monitor the outbreak.
After a couple of play-throughs, I found The Great Flu to be a real-time strategy affair which is surprisingly enjoyable despite its chilling subject matter. The game challenges players to make difficult, real-world decisions about the timely allocation of healthcare resources when confronted with a potential pandemic. These choices range from relatively inexpensive options such as public information campaigns and distributing face masks, to tougher calls, including massive investments in vaccine or closing schools and airports. One of the game’s key lessons – policy makers, take note – is that an aggressive early intervention can save thousands of lives and billions of dollars.
So how did I fare against the Gamers Flu? Not so well. After just a month, 24,000 people had died around the world and there was rioting in the streets of cities along America’s East Coast. The great thing about games, however, is that you can always start again.