Jon Gracey's

Games That Rocked…Viv Egan’s World – #54: Plague Inc.

In Android, iOS on January 28, 2014 at 7:37 am

Title: Plague Inc.

Format: iOS, Android

Released: 26th May, 2012

Plague-Inc Logo

I don’t believe you can tempt fate. That is to say, I don’t believe that saying or thinking something bad will make it more likely to happen. For instance, if I tell Jon that I hope he dies, or if I instruct him to kill himself (something I do frequently), I don’t believe that I’ve brought the universe’s attention to his mortality, and that he’ll suddenly be struck down (more’s the pity).

But this stoicism was sorely tested on the evening/early hours of May 6th 2013, during which a hell was rained down upon me unlike any I’ve ever known. And it felt like a terrible penance for playing one, truly addictive, game. That game was Plague Inc.

Let me explain.

Plague MenuPlague Inc. is a mobile game in which you act as an evil scientist/vengeful creator spirit, casting your maleficent gaze across a map of the world. Your job is simple: create a virus so effective and so deadly that it infects and kills off the entirety of humanity.

You start with a small pathogen of a new disease, previously unknown to humans. It will be harmless to begin with. You can choose where patient zero is located. A good place to start is a place with a high-density population and low medical services (the game gives you a profile of each country containing this information, you don’t just have to base it on your vaguely racist assumptions about the developing world), some land borders and also some trade routes – you can see the airline and shipping routes between continents marked on your map.

Plague Inc Map

You get DNA points as you infect new countries, which you use to mutate your disease – you can alter which symptoms evolve, designate how the disease spreads and improve its ability to harden against clinical environments, testing or antibiotics.

Here’s where an element of strategy comes in. Will you evolve the transmission so that it infects everyone before they know it’s there, and then ramp up the symptoms so that they die? You don’t want the authorities to detect your disease too quickly, because they will slow you down and possibly defeat you as they work for the cure. You also don’t want the disease to kill all of its hosts before it can spread to everyone. For instance, Greenland is a real bugger to infect, so don’t make your disease really deadly until you’ve got it there.

tl;dr? It’s the film Contagion in a game.

Plague Graph

It’s even got graphs! Sexy, sexy graphs

Across the top of your screen is a scrolling marquee, CNN style, of the news of the world as it responds to (or remains blissfully unaware of) your disease. The headlines get more and more hysterical as your bacteria becomes more and more calamitous. Things like “Norway starts burying its dead in mass graves”, or “the government of the UK collapses”, or “martial law declared in Ukraine”. Occasionally you’ll see some laughable effort such as, when 90% of the world’s population has died, “Italy declares a state of emergency”. No shit, Italy.

There’s also the chilling jackpot when, after you’ve infected the entire global population and there’s no turning back the tide, those still alive know that they are “watching the end of history.” And you air punch.

Plague Diseases

Take that, blood clots!

This game is one massive F UUU!! to the concept of fate-tempting. It puts you in the driver’s seat of the apocalypse and gets you cheering when symptoms evolve on their own (dysentery? SWEET! Necrosis? Aw YEAH).

Let’s stop and think about dysentery for a second.



And do you even know what Necrosis MEANS? Look it up, it’s disgusting. (Told you).

It’s only when you connect that word with the human suffering it represents that you realise Plague Inc. has made you into a monster, cackling gleefully at the demise of your race with nary a thought of how awful this would actually be in real life.

The Plops

Or you obliterate any sense of pathos by naming your disease “The plops”

Which leads me back to the events I alluded to at the start of this piece. May 6 was a sunny bank holiday in the UK. Jon and I met with some of our friends on Hampstead Heath. We ate cheese and chicken wings, we drank cider, we played rounders; all was well. We went home. At about 11pm we hopped on Skype with my mum. I vomited multiple times during that conversation (not the conversation’s fault). I drank water, rehydrating. NO! Said my body, promptly expelling it.

Then it started out the other end. Luckily the bathroom is laid out such that I could sit on the loo and puke into the sink. Small mercies, which were quickly withdrawn when Jon started to feel queasy. I now had to hold on while he used the bathroom, and vice versa. Was I patient zero? WAS HE THE NEXT INFECTEE? I was meant to be travelling to Paris the following day. Would I infect France?! We then played a fun game of tag in which the goal was to not shit the bed while the other was occupying the loo. There were no winners.

Funny Toilet

Our toilet was less grateful

At approximately 20 minute intervals for 6 hours, this heinous illness ravaged my body unabated. My mouth was dry but I couldn’t drink. I got no sleep, except that of the damned. By 5am, when I realised there was blood in the poop, I called NHS Direct. They sent an ambulance.

And there, my friends, is where I was thankful that 1) I live in a civilised country where healthcare is free, and 2) I HAD A PERFECTLY NORMAL VIRUS THAT WAS EASILY TREATABLE AND NOT A HERALD OF THE END OF DAYS.

I was seen immediately, I got sent to a private room, they hooked me up to a drip that both rehydrated me and made me high, and they gave me some anti-nausea meds. Big ups to Jon, who came with me in the ambulance, witnessed me vomit and accidentally saw the picture I’d taken (for the reference of the doctors) of my blood-laced diarrhoea. It was he who – as I lay in my hospital gown, the doctor having recently inserted her latexed index finger into my raw arsehole – solemnly deleted Plague Inc. from both of our phones.

2013-05-07 05.42.30

Me in hospital. Jon took this (legend)

Readers who have played this game will have noticed that I didn’t touch on the evolving forms of virus that comprise the harder levels (like fungus, parasite and bio-weapon), because that day was the last I ever played Plague Inc. Like I said, I don’t believe in tempting fate, but I do believe that Plague Inc. tempted me away from a proper respect for genuine human suffering.

There is something singularly “first world” about making a game of serious illness. Africa has enough to deal with in real life without me getting a thrill because I’ve achieved total organ failure for its people without lifting a finger to alleviate the suffering that goes on there daily. Throughout human history, our forebears have suffered through actual plagues, dying horribly in thousands of unthinkable ways of diseases from which we are now mercifully free (yay vaccination!).

Plague Challenge

Well I *could*

Tempting fate, maybe not, but dancing the dance of major hubris? Yeahlittlebit. If you download Plague Inc., think about donating the same amount of money to a medical charity as well. Let’s fix children dying from malaria before killing them for entertainment, k? K.

Good game, though.

2013-05-07 06.43.52

Viv Egan is a freelance writer and journalist. She co-wrote this book with some dude. Check out her thrift blog and follow her on Twitter @VivEgan41. That’s her above. Painkillers are a beautiful thing.



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