The storyline of Plague Inc. eerily mirrors the Covid-19 pandemic.

It’s 2012 in Bristol, United Kingdom and Patient Zero, James Vaughan, has been infected by a parasite. The parasite burrowed deep into Patient Zero’s unconscious mind and there is stayed for some time until it began manifesting symptoms. The parasite was an Idea and the first noticeable symptom was when Patient Zero thought to create a mobile game called Plague Inc. This would be a strategy game where you play as a disease intent on infecting the entire globe. You win the game when every human being is infected and all world governments have collapsed.  Eight years later, the parasite has evolved and spread to 120 million users worldwide. It has also made the ‘species jump’ from nebulous idea to iOS, Android, PC, Mac, Xbox One, PS4, Linux and board game. This is the surreal story of how Plague Inc from Ndemic Creations and the Covid-19 pandemic have become interlinked.

Gamers Classified trialled the free version of Plague Inc. on Android so that is the strain of the microbe that will be discussed here. The game begins by asking you if you would like to be a bacteria, virus, prion, fungus, parasite, nano-virus or bio-weapon. If you invest in biological warfare (read, if you buy the game) you can choose any of these options. If your Research and Development budget is exhausted (read, if you download the free version), you can only play as a bacterium.

Choose where to unleash your plague and evolve it to spread and survive in different climates.

Next, you choose a name for yourself. If you can’t think of one, don’t worry; the pre-loaded options are all gems. Will humans learn to fear Putrid Bout? Will they be levelled by Itchy Hell? Is Febriola the great equaliser? Perhaps you want an abstract name to hide behind so you’ll choose Antiborne. Maybe you’re not so subtle and want to be known as Bioblight.

After choosing what name the world will learn to fear, you then choose where to begin your plague. Touch anywhere on the world map to contaminate your first victim. There is no right or wrong answer but remember that this is a strategy game so every decision must have a justification. Making your plague aggressive and starting it in a travel hub will allow it to spread quickly but will also bring it to the public’s attention. Highly conspicuous plagues attract swift cure research. This game will test your reasoning skills as you race to destroy the world before international cooperation leads to a cure.

As you spread from place to place and from person to person, you will gain DNA points. You can allocate these across the symptoms, abilities and spread categories to determine how you will spread and what effect you will have. If you see that a wealthy country is making advances in cure research, concentrate your efforts to destabilise that country.

Use DNA points to customise your plague’s features.

Track the news headlines to see how the world is reacting. If Terry Pratchett is voted as the best writer ever, it means you aren’t being a very efficient microbe. If Iran and Turkey have resorted to using mass graves and the governments of Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Iraq have fallen, it means that you’re an efficient little killer.  How long until the whole world falls into anarchy and everyone dies an agonizing death? There’s a calendar conveniently located in the top right hand corner to track your progress.

Understandably, this game may hit too close to home for some people who may have been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. If you think that Plague Inc. sounds distasteful, you may be happy to learn than Ndemic Creations recently donated $250 000 to the Coalition of Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and the World Health Organisation’s COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund. The CEPI is an international organisation which works to develop vaccines for infectious diseases including Covid-19. The World Health Organisation’s COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund is providing information, care and safety products across the world to help contain the virus.  Therefore, purchasing Plague Inc. not only gives you access to some lockdown entertainment but also helps Ndemic Creations fund health initiatives.

However, if simulating the spread of a realistic plague simply doesn’t appeal to you at this time, fear not. Plague Inc. also has a fantasy storyline where the player is a vampire hell bent on transforming humans into vampires. As a vampire, the player can shapeshift into a bat and travel short distances to evade detection. The vampire can also build a nest to rest and recuperate. If this angle still doesn’t appeal to you, you may be pleased to know that Ndemic Creations have accelerated their development of a new version of the game where the player races against time to stop a pandemic. For now the world will have to wait and see what comes first, a vaccine for Covid-19 or a new world-saving version of Plague Inc.